Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 19 February 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Security and Surveillance Issues: Minister for Justice and Equality
I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, who is accompanied by Mr. Brian Purcell, Secretary General, and Mr. Michael Flahive, assistant secretary, and thank them for their attendance. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss issues arising from reports of the unlawful surveillance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
To ensure that mobile telephone interference with the broadcasting equipment is kept to a minimum, I remind members and those in the gallery to switch their phones and iPads to aeroplane, safe or flight mode. I ask everyone to do that now because this meeting will be broadcast live on the UPC channel and on the Internet.
The questions today will be purely around the issue at hand, that is, the controversy around the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and alleged bugging, not other issues. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I now invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
Thank you Chairman. In advance, I would like to say that I have the remnant of the flu, so if my voice ebbs and wanes, I hope nobody will attribute it to anything else. I am very happy to be here. I am accompanied by two officials from my Department, Mr. Brian Purcell who is the Secretary General, and Mr. Michael Flahive, who is the assistant secretary general. They are both with me because they were both present during my meeting with the chairman of GSOC, Mr. Simon O'Brien, which took place in my Department on the Monday after the report in The Sunday Times. I followed with interest the proceedings before this committee last week, and I read the transcript of the entirety of the proceedings.
Members of the committee have been following this matter over the last week, and I am sure they are familiar with the speech I made in the Dáil last night, setting out the developments that had occurred between Tuesday of last week and Tuesday of this week, in the context of my engagement with GSOC and other matters of relevance to the controversy that has arisen. I do not wish to detain the committee by repeating what I already put on the Dáil record last night. I am very happy to take any questions that members of the committee wish to raise with me.
I welcome the Minister and his officials. Mr. Simon O'Brien of GSOC gave a statement to this committee last week, which in part resembled the briefing note he gave the Minister, subsequent to which the Minister addressed the Dáil. What was noteworthy was that the Ombudsman decided to instigate a section 102 public interest investigation, subsequent to a general sweep of the offices. When two technical and electronic anomalies were identified at the time, there was no suggestion that technology exclusively within the access or remit of the State would be required. It is only subsequent to the investigation being conducted that a third anomaly was found. It was suggested then that the "know how" for the 3G device would be something available at government level. Clearly, beforehand there was no suggestion that this might be related to some of the arms of the Government or institutions of the State.
I note that in Mr. O'Brien's briefing document to the Minister, he did not provide the prelude that he gave to us, which stated that he had these concerns over the summer and tensions were high between him and the Garda authorities. He instigated a section 102 public interest investigation simply on the basis of that, which really was not evidence of any surveillance having taken place. Subsequent to that, we have seen the suggestion that at least one of those investigations can be very innocently explained; namely, in respect of the Wi-Fi device.
I am very conscious that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission received a technical report which, from its perspective and understanding of it, exposed what the commission saw, and what the documentation I received subsequent to my statement to the Dáil referenced, as vulnerabilities. The wording used last week was "potential threats", and in the final report it was referenced as "anomalies". There were two issues that arose prior to the section 102 investigation. The first, if I could describe it in non-technical terms, seems to be that a Wi-Fi system which had been acquired by GSOC either late in 2007 or early 2008 had never been used for anything, was connecting to something external and remote, as the report from Verrimus states. As matters stood by the end of September, all GSOC seemed to know was that its Wi-Fi was connecting to something external. There are three security company reports, which I received subsequent to my statement to the Dáil. That is all GSOC knew. However, it had never been used. The Wi-Fi system did not connect to any of GSOC's information systems. There was nothing about that information which indicated what impact this was having, but it was described as a vulnerability.
The second issue, to which I will return later, was the telephone conference call system. There was a conference call telephone, which I believe was also never used, or certainly was not used during the lifetime of the current Commission. It had only been used for conference calls rather than ordinary telephone calls. There was a description of a test whereby some signal was sent down the telephone, and we were told three seconds later that the telephone rang. These were the only two issues.
When I met Simon O'Brien, together with both of my officials, I had a detailed conversation as to why at that point an investigation was commenced into An Garda Síochána. That was the only group into which the investigation could have been commenced. The explanation never went any further than that these two vulnerabilities, anomalies or potential threats had been identified. No more was said about that in the brief to me. I am open to correction by committee members, but I do not think that was expanded upon further during the course of the deliberations for the committee. The Deputy is right to say that there ultimately was a reference to a whole series of background issues, but it was not expanded beyond those two issues.
There was a conversation about the proportionality of the decision-making process in deciding at that point to invoke a section 102 investigation. In subsequent correspondence I have had with the Commission, I further raised that issue and the explanation really has not gone beyond that. The Deputy is right to say that if there were issues of concern arising out of the report - I take it genuinely that GSOC had issues of concern - I would have thought that certain other steps could have been taken. For example, the security company indicated that when it made the first report - I do not fully understand this and it is one of the issues that can be dealt with by the judge dealing with it by way of inquiry - the company stated that it did not have time to find where the remote connection to the Wi-Fi was coming from. I thought it would have been reasonable, before an investigation begins, to have the company take that time and to see if something can be identified.
The second occasion the security firm visited seems to be around 24 or 25 October, which is referenced in the second report. At that stage, the company seems to be identifying a connection to a Bitbuzz network.
It is only the final report, dated 16 December, which pins that matter down. I am happy to reference specifically what it says. However, it would have made some sense, before commencing that investigation, to have the security firm take the time to see where the connection came from.
The final report and the section 103 report may have been received in my Department late on Thursday evening or maybe Friday morning but I only saw it on Friday. The final report references that it was identified that the Wi-Fi system was connecting to another Wi-Fi system through Bitbuzz and that was located in a business premises close to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission offices. It was not clarified any further. I asked my officials to seek clarification on that matter from GSOC. We were informed on Tuesday morning of this week. I imagine Brian Purcell can give the committee the exact time but I gather it was sometime between 9.45 a.m. and 10.15 a.m. We were informed that the system was connected to a Wi-Fi system operating out of the Spar shop on the ground floor of the same premises occupied by GSOC where there is an Insomnia coffee area and a counter arrangement whereby people can sit and use their equipment and connect to Wi-Fi.
There are several issues here. It may be, however, given the anxiety members of GSOC had that they may have prematurely commenced the investigation. I have no wish to be critical of that but there is specific provision in section 102(4) of the Garda Síochána Act which indicates that there must be something that indicates Garda involvement. At that point I was not aware, and certainly I have not been informed by GSOC, of what it was about those two matters that indicated Garda involvement of any nature. That is genuinely still unclear to me. It is no clearer to me following the correspondence I have had with the commission.
Minister, the committee members have an eight-minute window each. The non-committee members will have a six-minute window. The reason is that you are not here indefinitely. In terms of the questioners, perhaps you could be sharper with your answers.
Deputy Mulherin wishes to come in. It has to be a quick question and a quick response from the Minister, whatever the question.
No, in fairness to the other committee members that was a long answer. I took the view it was necessary to let the Minister have that time to explain the issue. I am asking you, Deputy Mulherin, for a quick question and for a quick response to be fair to the other members.
On the basis of the evidence presented to the Minister, does he consider it is fair to say that the action of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was disproportionate? I am being pushed to put questions to the Minister. Clearly in December the commission had closed the book on this. Only for what appeared in the Sunday newspaper - it may have happened at another time - this would not have come into the public domain. At any time did the members of the commission put it to the Minister that they needed extra resources or that they considered taking a second opinion from another surveillance company? Had they not put the matter to rest? When the representative of the commission came before this committee he clearly seemed perturbed and concerned that surveillance was going on. Yet all that was offered was the evidence we have discussed and the evidence which he gave at the committee.
This is all against the backdrop of mutual mistrust or suspicion between the Garda Commissioner and the ombudsman commission. In respect of the review or inquiry that the Minister is setting up, which will have a retired judge at its head, would it be possible-----
With the backdrop of mutual suspicion, can the terms of reference provide for recommendations by the retired High Court judge on how to rectify this or how to address it in future? We know protocols have been set up but clearly there are still problems. This is the real issue and it has, in effect, been fanning the flames of the issue we are dealing with.
I am happy to give this as much time as is necessary. I appreciate in respect of this matter that it is not always possible to give a short and succinct answer.
It is rather complex and a short answer could be misleading. I have no wish to comment on whether GSOC should have commenced the section 102 investigation at the point when it did. I have merely described the information on which the commission commenced it. That issue can be considered in the context of any matters of relevance to this by the judge who is going to conduct the inquiry.
At no stage am I aware of GSOC seeking additional resources. At no stage am I aware that GSOC sought a second opinion on security issues, nor has the commission suggested to me that it required a second opinion.
The matter is clear from the brief I received and from the presentation made to this committee. I may slightly misquote what was said but I recall the representatives from the commission said their understanding was that there were technical limits. I have written to GSOC indicating that arising out of all of this if the commission requires additional resources to provide the organisation with additional technical expertise in areas of relevance to its work then my Department will provide those resources. I believe that is important.
Deputy Mulherin referred to some other issues. The Garda and GSOC went through a difficult period. I believe Simon O'Brien and the other members of GSOC have fairly set this out not only at this committee but elsewhere. There has been contention between the Garda and GSOC. I would be surprised, frankly, if there had not been. Clearly, there will be tensions between a police force and the body that has oversight of that police force and this is replicated throughout the world. My job and obligation is to ensure that public confidence is maintained in each and that there is a sufficient relationship to ensure, for example, that GSOC can do its work properly. This is why after publication of the reports that were touched on in this committee last week, I had meetings with the Garda Commissioner and GSOC. I have got on well with both the members of GSOC and the Commissioner. It was my job to try to ensure that there was better engagement between them in future. The putting in place of new protocols had been a subject of discussion between both bodies. It was my view that the discussion was going on too long. As a result of my intervention the discussions were progressed at greater speed and, as mentioned, in September of 2013 they signed off on new protocols. These have only been in place for some months. I know that Simon O'Brien commented on those protocols. Of course it is important that they work correctly and appropriately.
In the Minister's first statement to the Dáil on the matter of the surveillance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission by people, as yet unidentified, he failed to outline the fact that GSOC had launched a public interest investigation. The Minister also failed to disclose to the Dáil the reasoning behind the launching of that investigation. At the same time, the Minister dismissed any reasoning as being completely baseless innuendo. Why did the Minister do that? On the Tuesday or Wednesday - at this stage I have lost track of the days - the Minister failed to tell the Dáil that the stingray or IMSI catcher highlighted in the Verrimus report was available only to Government agencies.
Would he not agree that the only logical reason for the presence of such a device in this vicinity would be that another Government agency was involved in crime prevention or detection or that it was being used by rogue elements of one of those agencies that had an expertise or had possession of such equipment? That begs a further question. Is that type of equipment in the possession of the Revenue Commissioners, Customs and Excise, An Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces?
A further question arises about why GSOC initiated its investigation in the first place. When the Minister met the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, did he ask him what was the information that he possessed which gave rise to the suspicions of GSOC that its office was under electronic surveillance? When the Minister met GSOC chairman, Simon O'Brien, did Simon O'Brien highlight his concerns about conversations he had with the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan in which the Commissioner had inadvertently revealed the details of a draft GSOC report which at that stage had not been made public and that the details revealed by the Commissioner triggered the need by GSOC to have an investigation into where that information had come from?
I am very happy to answer any questions I am asked but perhaps it may be of some minor help if Deputies could ask three questions to which I can reply and then come back to me because it is a little difficult to follow the entirety without taking extensive notes.
I do not wish to confine anyone to the number of questions they ask but if I could just deal with them in some sort of order.
The Deputy's first question was why did I fail to outline the fact that GSOC had undertaken a public interest investigation. I expressly said in my script that GSOC had commenced an investigation. I then proceeded to detail the outcome of the investigation. I assumed - and I am repeating what I said in the Dáil last night - that Deputies were familiar with the relevant legislation and certainly that the Opposition spokespersons were. The only section of the Act under which GSOC could have itself commenced an investigation without having received a complaint, was section 102(4), which is the public interest investigation. There was no suggestion GSOC had received a complaint from anybody. There was no suggestion that the Garda Commissioner had asked it to investigate anything or that I had asked it to investigate anything. I made the simple statement that GSOC had commenced an investigation; that certainly did not result in my anticipating that for political reasons, people would come along and suggest that I misled the Dáil. It was the only method that GSOC could have deployed in commencing an investigation and there is no mystery about it.
What I was doing in the House last Tuesday week was summarising the information that I had received. I could have not only referred to section 102(4) of the Act but I could have referred to the relevance of section 98 of the Act and the relevance of section 103 of the Act but I did not do so. In dealing with the section 103 matter I made a reference to the fact that I had not been informed of these matters, that I learned of them in the The Sunday Times report and that I had never received a report on them from GSOC. If I had wanted to be legally technical I would have cited the specific provisions of section 103 of the Act. What I was trying to do was to detail for the House my knowledge of the matter and of the events but not to engage in some sort of legal treatise on the sections of the Act. I have no idea why this is an issue of any controversy because it was the only section that could have been deployed.
The Deputy asked me what was the reason I was given for GSOC commencing the section 102 investigation. The only reasons I was given were the two reasons I referenced in my response to Deputy Mulherin. I was given no other reasons and that is why there was a conversation involving myself and Simon O'Brien and with two officials present from my Department, in order to see if there was anything else to be said about it. We did have concerns about the proportionality of GSOC making that decision at that moment. It may have been appropriate, with further technical advice, to have made the decision at a later stage, but in circumstances where there was nothing at all to indicate Garda involvement, it was difficult to understand why that decision was made. The Deputy is right in that he has listed all sorts of bodies and he asked whether it could have been the Revenue Commissioners or Customs and Excise or the Defence Forces. I would equally ask whether it could have been some foreign agency or whether it could have been based on what we have learned was happening in England, whether it could have been a journalist or anybody else. I am not suggesting it was but I am just saying there was a lot of "could it have been". The only body which GSOC has a statutory remit to investigate is An Garda Síochána. The section of the Act has to have some purpose; it cannot simply be a case of, "We think it might be, therefore we are investigating". There has to be some substantive reason for doing it and it remains a mystery to me as to why at that moment in time, that decision was made.
The Deputy asked why did I make a comment about baseless innuendo. If the Deputy reads my speech, he will see what I said on last Tuesday week was that for the preceding 48 hours - I emphasise that time period - the Garda Síochána had been subject to baseless innuendo which arose out of the way the matter found its way into the public domain.
I refer Deputies - I apologise if I am being somewhat lengthy in my reply but it is relevant to the issue - to the interview that Mr. FitzGerald gave to "Prime Time" on Tuesday evening after I made my statement. He was asked a variety of questions by Miriam O'Callaghan and I will not go over them all. He was asked about the issue of the Garda Síochána. My reference to baseless innuendo was not that GSOC made baseless innuendo but that arising out of the report in The Sunday Times, there was a myriad of public discussions suggesting that the Garda Síochána - and that there was definitive evidence - had been engaged in surveillance with GSOC.
Miriam O'Callaghan asked Mr. FitzGerald, "In your statement last night [this is GSOC statement in its press release] you said there was no evidence of Garda misconduct. Why would you say that in the first place if you were not thinking that?" He replied, "Because the reason we said that last night and that I am happy to repeat it here now, is that it is part of the public discussion in Dáil Éireann this evening and all over the airwaves the last couple of days people are pointing the fingers. May I say it is unfair of people to point fingers at the Garda Síochána on the basis of anything we have said or done". Miriam O'Callaghan then said, "But your statement last night did that" Mr. FitzGerald said, "No, our statement last night was meant to try to clear that up and say we did not find evidence of Garda misconduct because the public discourse seems to be pointing in the direction of finding the [Garda] guilty of this thing when we are saying quite clearly and categorically and in no uncertain terms, we found no evidence to point to that direction and for people to suggest that, you know, they were up to something. We're the people that did the examination; we're the people with the evidence; we do not have any evidence to point in that direction". It is quite clear that Mr. FitzGerald was of the view that the Garda Síochána was being the subject of baseless innuendo, not by GSOC but in the commentary that continued through and even past the statement I made to the Dáil on Tuesday week last, and that similar commentary has continued right up to the decision made by the Cabinet which we announced.
I will deal with the final matter in the context of the questions I was asked.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked what the Garda Commissioner told me when I asked him what information he had which gave rise to suspicions that the offices were under surveillance. I assume the Deputy does not mean that the Commissioner thought the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission offices were under surveillance; I take it he means that GSOC itself thought that. I have not had a conversation with the Garda Commissioner in which-----
To clarify, the two questions are linked. Both the Garda Commissioner and the chairman of GSOC, Simon O'Brien, have said the same thing, although Mr. O'Brien tried to backtrack from his statement when he was at the committee last week. The reason the investigation was initiated is that the Commissioner had access to a draft report GSOC was preparing and a paragraph in that report was inadvertently repeated by the Commissioner in a meeting with GSOC chairman. That is the nub of it all. It is the reason GSOC initiated the investigation and it is strange that nobody seems to looking at that.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh has missed something in all of this. I am advised that what he has stated is not the reason the investigation was initiated, and I am surprised the Deputy is saying that Mr. O'Brien was trying to backtrack last week. Mr. O'Brien was quite clear last week on the matter that ended up in the public domain on Sunday last. He said there was a document that had leaked from GSOC's offices which contained some inaccurate factual matters that gave rise to the suggestion that the security sweep it had done in September was the result of a senior garda knowing something he or she should not have known. I am paraphrasing what was said. Mr. O'Brien said that this was completely untrue but he was predicting that a story along those lines would appear in The Sunday Times or another newspaper the following Sunday. Lo and behold, that story did appear in The Sunday Timeslast Sunday.
In the briefings I have received since last Tuesday week from GSOC, it is clearly set out that Mr. O'Brien had some type of conversation with some of the employees of GSOC in the summer of 2013 which seemed to be misunderstood by two employees. This misunderstanding is quite serious because it sets the scene for an aspect of this whole matter which the committee has not had the opportunity to explore. It is an issue I do not want to comment on beyond just setting out what I know. It is for the judge dealing with these matters to address. What Mr. O'Brien said was that two members of GSOC were under the impression, wrongly, that the commission's security systems had already been breached and something confidential was known by an individual by whom it should not have been known. Mr. O'Brien said this was not true or accurate and had led to a misunderstanding, which misunderstanding fed its way into the report that was received from the security firm, Verrimus. He is right in that because the reports I have received reference it.
In terms of the brief given to Verrimus, Mr. O'Brien understood the brief - as the explained it to me and to the committee, although other things were then added in - was set out on the basis that GSOC had not had a general security sweep done since 2007. Other security matters had been done since but a security sweep of a general nature had not been done. The commissioners though of doing this on their appointment but did not get around to it in 2012. It was finally done in 2013. I believe it was Mr. O'Brien's understanding that it was being done for general reasons of ensuring the security of GSOC's offices, which is eminently sensible and something that should be done with some regularity. It is something that should happen in the Garda, in GSOC and in Departments.
However, it seems that Verrimus was led to believe when it commenced its work that there was already a breach of security in GSOC when, in fact, there had not been. I would have thought Deputy Ó Snodaigh would understand that Mr. O'Brien said that what he anticipated would appear last Sunday was inaccurate. It has seemed like the Deputy is placing great reliance on it; he referenced it last night in the House. If he accepts that Mr. O'Brien said this was untrue, that a mistake was made, that employees of GSOC were under the wrong impression and this impacted on the work done by Verrimus, then I do not know why the Deputy should then discount what Mr. O'Brien told the committee about the matter. That is where the issue is. Mr. O'Brien said at the committee last week:
The security check, a security sweep, initially was in relation to a general level of risk to identify risks and mitigate these risks. I had nothing in my mind to say we were under surveillance.I appreciate very much that other comments were made during the course of the presentation to the committee from which other inferences could be taken, but what Mr. O'Brien said in the statement I referenced totally tallies with the advice he gave me when I met him and with the brief I circulated to committee members following on from the controversy that developed.
I am allowing a degree of detail initially because the Minister needs to go through these matters, some of which are complex, very carefully. However, as the meeting proceeds and if there is a repetition of questions, I ask him to be briefer in his replies.
In fairness, the first round of questions will be slower because there is a great deal of detail to get through. I am allowing for that in order to facilitate the maximum interaction. We will have to sharpen our approach as we go on. I ask members to keep an eye on the questions that have already been covered and try to avoid repetition.
The Minister stated that the transcript of last week's meeting tallies with his recollection of his interaction with Mr. O'Brien in the particular instance he cited. Having reviewed the entire transcript, did the Minister find anything that did not tally with his recollection? In his interaction with the chairman of GSOC and the other commissioners, is he satisfied that he received the same level of information as we received last week in the committee, or was he left at any disadvantage?
In regard to the security brief and who said what to whom in terms of how the investigation was initiated, does the Minister accept that from the committee's point of view, we are at a significant disadvantage in the sense that we are largely relying, on the basis of what the chairman of GSOC said last week, on the next instalment in the Sunday newspapers? Does the Minister agree it is time this committee was given full disclosure in regard to everything that has happened from a GSOC point of view? Will the Minister elaborate on his decision to appoint a judge to deal with this matter?
I will take the Deputy's questions in reverse order. This issue arose at an extraordinarily early stage last week when people were demanding that there be some form of inquiry. I met with Mr. O'Brien and received a brief from him in writing and GSOC issued a statement. If one looks at it in the round, what occurred, based on the information I had, was that a security sweep was initiated by GSOC. What was termed "Anomalies", "potential threats" and "vulnerabilities" were identified. The commission independently decided to commence an investigation. A GSOC investigation can only be into Garda misconduct; it cannot be into anything else. GSOC concluded, as the commissioners said in their press release, that there was no evidence of Garda misconduct. That was GSOC's conclusion.
On other occasions where GSOC investigated matters and found evidence of Garda misconduct it has reported properly and extensively on that misconduct. There has never been a call for an inquiry into the outcome of GSOC deliberations where it found evidence of Garda misconduct.
The conclusions of GSOC have been accepted, whether by the current Government or that which preceded it. At that stage, confidence in GSOC would have been seriously undermined if it had been decided, because it had independently commenced an investigation and found no evidence of Garda misconduct, that an inquiry be conducted.
The criticism on this issue has dissipated since I circulated the brief furnished to me by GSOC. The commission also concluded that there was no definitive evidence of technical or electronic surveillance at its offices. Effectively, it did not establish that surveillance had taken place but it had established the fact that there was no Garda misconduct. I am afraid some people may have been disappointed that there was no evidence of Garda misconduct. The issues quite properly addressed by Commissioner FitzGerald to which I referred earlier continued to be aired publicly for quite some time. Unfortunately, during the course of the four-hour hearing before the committee, I think matters became somewhat confused. Following on from that, I received the three technical reports from Verrimus. I received, and read, on Friday last the section 103 report. I engaged in correspondence with the commission to seek to clarify matters. I sent it a very detailed letter, received a response and subsequently wrote to it again.
As a result of my concerns regarding the technical matters and because it appeared, when I received the section 103 report, that neither what had occurred in respect of the WiFi issue nor the conclusions reached by Verrimus had ever been adequately explained to me or to this committee, wisdom indicated that a peer review should be carried out in respect of the documentation and conclusions relating to the technology. That peer review was carried out and I only received the report relating to it yesterday. I briefed Cabinet on all of these matters and expressed my concerns about them. I did so because there were now two technical reports - which were contradictory in places - and because it would be a matter of great seriousness if GSOC had been under surveillance. One of the technical reports stated - on the basis of the peer review - that there was no evidence at all of surveillance. I was firmly convinced no one would believe that. I do not know which is true. I do not have the technical knowledge and I can only report the information I am given. This had been a continuing controversy and I was not happy with the responses I received to the correspondence I sent. I was of the view that greater clarity was required. In addition, the content of the section 103 report gave rise to other concerns. As a result, I briefed Cabinet on the matter.
I was very anxious that no impression be created to the effect that if an inquiry was held, this would for some reason give rise to my avoiding coming before this committee. I will be perfectly frank and state that one of the considerations was that had the inquiry been announced yesterday, I was concerned someone would suggest that it was only taking place to avoid my coming before this committee. As a result of the level of public discourse in respect of this matter, the major difficulties to which it was giving rise in the context of GSOC getting on with its work and credibility issues relating to public trust in An Garda Síochána and GSOC, I concluded that we had gone beyond the point of it being a matter of an inquiry because GSOC had reached a particular conclusion. It was now an issue where myriad information - some of it contradictory - was available and I was of the view that it would never be cleared up without a judge being appointed to address it. This is the reason why we reached that decision. I am of the view that it was the right decision.
The terms of reference will be finalised by this evening. All sorts of comments have been made to the effect that I am going to develop those terms of reference and that I have some nefarious motive in respect of this matter. The terms of reference are essentially being drawn up by the Attorney General. They will come through the Department in the usual way as a result of the fact that I am the line Minister. The terms of reference will be agreed by Cabinet on the basis of the recommendation of the Attorney General. That is the normal way in which these matters are dealt with.
I was asked if I received the same information as this committee. The answer in that regard is not precisely. Expansions and additional comments were made during the course of the committee's hearing. Some of those expansions and comments were somewhat confusing. One of the commissioners was asked whether the outcome of their investigation exonerated the Garda Síochána and the reply that was given was that it neither did or did not exonerate the force. In view of what had been said on "Prime Time" with regard to the conclusions reached, I can well understand how that created confusion. It was quite proper that in his opening presentation to the committee, the chairman of GSOC referenced issues of tension between himself and the Garda Síochána. It is right that GSOC be fully independent and free to publicly comment on issues of concern. He referenced all of that, which seemed to be a lead-in to the suggestion that this is why the security sweep took place. Later on he clarified that matter in the quote to which I referred earlier. He did not preface it to me in that way and that reference is not in the brief. There was something of a variance between the information I received and the way matters developed. However, I totally and genuinely understand that in the context of the four hours of questioning which took place.
The section 103 report clearly should have been furnished to me much earlier and well before the matter leaked to The Sunday Times. That report contains information that neither this committee nor I had in our possession. There are genuine issues in respect of that matter. I hope I have answered the questions the Deputy raised.
The Minister's explanations just do not add up in the context of what we understand him to have known last week as against what he said in the Dáil. When addressing the House, the Minister used the phrases "I understand that no connection between any member of An Garda Síochána with any of these matters arose" and "While no information has been furnished to me by GSOC suggesting that An Garda Síochána was involved in any way in what gave rise to the concerns which arose in GSOC about its security". The briefing he received from GSOC - which he was in possession of when he made his statement - says that the investigation was launched on the basis that the acting director of investigations in GSOC was of the opinion that, to the extent that these threats could be proven, section 102(4) engaged and that such surveillance may have originated with An Garda Síochána. In other words, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission told the Minister that it may be under surveillance and that such surveillance may have been undertaken by An Garda Síochána. That is why it launched the investigation. Why did the Minister not admit that last week? Why did he flatly deny that he was aware of those submissions and that the Ombudsman's brief had made him aware of them? Why did he try to kill off the story? All of this does not add up.
The Deputy's first question relates to whether what I said in the Dáil on the Tuesday before last true. The answer is that it was. The passage in the brief which he cites is very interesting. It states "The investigation was launched on the basis that the Acting Director of Investigations was of the opinion that, to the extent that these threats could be proven". The threats we were discussing at that point were simply a WiFi connection being established remotely from somewhere or other without anyone investigating in order to discover the source of that connection and a test - with which I will deal shortly - carried out down a telephone line. There was nothing of any description to indicate that the Garda had any involvement at all with that matter at that point. When the investigation subsequently commenced, the conclusion was that there was no evidence of any Garda misconduct.
I go back to what Kieran FitzGerald said. I do not want to delay the committee by requoting what he said on "Prime Time".
-----was engaged in surveillance. I was asked about the proportionality. I specifically asked Simon O'Brien about that, as did both of my officials. I was told there was nothing and, indeed, there is nothing revealed in this brief to indicate what the evidence was. One cannot simply say, "There are two peculiar things happening and I am of the opinion that the Garda are responsible".
Can I clarify it? What is indicated here is not definitive and the Minister clung to that phrase that there was "no definitive evidence", but what that hid was that there were substantial concerns on the part of the Ombudsman that they were under surveillance and that surveillance may have been conducted by the Garda. That prompted it to undertake an investigation and to bring in experts and when they came they found more threats, further adding to possible concerns that it was under surveillance. Nothing is definitive about that. We do not know definitively if it was bugged but there was substantial evidence that it might have been bugged and the security experts told it that one of the threats that was identified was Government level technology. Any reasonable person would look at that and consider that to be of serious concern, with a need to get of the bottom of it. One certainly would not respond to those facts by saying, "There is nothing to look into here; let us move on," which is essentially what the Minister said to the Dáil last week.
I am sorry to be a little tedious on this but I come back to the point that it is not for me to express views other than the views that the commissioners expressed to me. I come back to what Kieran FitzGerald said on "Prime Time". I think it was on at 9.30 p.m. that Tuesday within an hour and half of so of my addressing the Dáil. He said, and I am paraphrasing this, that he was happy to repeat that people are pointing fingers at the Garda and, "May I say it is unfair to point fingers at ... [the Garda] on the basis of anything we have said or done", and then they went on to say, "The public discourse seems to be pointing in the direction of finding the guards guilty of this thing when we are saying quite clearly and categorically and in no uncertain terms, we found no evidence to point to that direction". He did not even say there was some evidence that was there before the section 102 investigation but it proved to be incorrect. He said-----
I am trying to interpret this. Deputy Boyd Barrett's point regarding the briefing the Minister received from GSOC concerns the reason why the Minister did not relay what was in the briefing. Is that the point the Deputy is making?
The only concerns that led to the investigation were the two so-called "vulnerabilities". There was no evidence, and I still know of no evidence, and the Deputy and members of this committee know of no evidence, as opposed to feelings that people would like to have. There is no evidence of Garda involvement. I want to be very clear about this because I have been the subject of political attack on this issue.
I am told that I am too close to the Garda Commissioner as if the Minister for Justice and Equality should be at war with the Garda Commissioner. Can I say on this issue that my only interest is that we get at the truth. I tell the truth as I know it based on the information that I am given. My interest is ensuring that the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner properly carry out their duties in accordance with statute and that GSOC properly carries out its very important public functions independently and is allowed and facilitated to do the job we have asked it to do, but I cannot make a pretence that I know of something that I do not know. The truth is, and it is corroborated by what Kieran FitzGerald said, that I know of no evidence, either prior to the commencement of the section 102 investigation or subsequent to it, to indicate Garda involvement in this matter. If there was Garda involvement in this matter, I would take it with the utmost seriousness.
The only person recently who has suggested that the Minister is too close to the Garda Commissioner is Mr. Oliver Connolly in the transcript of his conversation with Maurice McCabe. I am not suggesting that; he suggested it in the transcript. Setting that issue aside, does the Minister not think the fact that a security firm that is expert in this area that investigated possible bugging of the commission's office and revealed a threat which it said is Government level technology is evidence of possible bugging and possible wrongdoing? It is not definitive evidence but surely it is worrying evidence that something needs to be looked into. Instead of the Minister saying he was worried about this in the Dáil last week, that we need to look into it and there are serious matters of concern here that need to be investigated, he decided to say there is absolutely no connection, there is no definitive evidence, end of story and let us move on. Does he think that was an appropriate and correct response to evidence that any reasonable person looking at it objectively would say, "I am concerned about that"? Will the Minister not accept that public confidence in the Garda and in his handling of this has been seriously damaged and that the public is not convinced that we are getting to the truth of this matter?
The Deputy is absolutely right that if there is a threat or a suspicion that GSOC was under surveillance that it is appropriate that the matter be investigated, but what he is missing is that GSOC itself investigated it. It decided there was no definitive evidence of surveillance and it referenced what occurred as "anomalies". One of the anomalies - I am happy to address the other two but I want to address the one the Deputy particularly mentioned - has been found to be a Wi-Fi system in a coffee shop in the same building as GSOC which, for an unexplained reason, occasionally tuned into GSOC Wi-Fi. There is no suggestion that people drinking coffee are wandering in there to tune into GSOC.
The conclusion of GSOC is that there is no evidence of Garda misconduct. The Deputy has accepted other GSOC reports where Garda failures have been identified. He has a difficulty accepting a GSOC report where GSOC itself says there is no evidence of Garda misconduct. All the jumping up and down in the world does not establish Garda misconduct.
On the issue the Deputy has raised, in the context of one of the threats, he is missing the point that the first two were the ones that had nothing to do with alleged kit that only governments can acquire. There was a reference quite clearly in the security firm's report to a device that allegedly it is said only governments can acquire. The Deputy might recall that Simon O'Brien said something to the committee that was similar to what he said to me - that he was not convinced in fact that this was kit that only governments could acquire. It might be kit that, in law, only governments can acquire - I am not sure that is necessarily right either - but he did not accept that as a serious statement from his own security firm, which is why I did not particularly highlight it because what was really important was the conclusion - had there or had there not been surveillance and the answer was that there was no definitive indicator of surveillance. I am afraid it gets a bit more complicated-----
-----because the equipment that the security firm said cannot be acquired other than by governments is identifiable on the web for acquisition. It costs about €5,000 to acquire it-----
Yes. I am advised that is the case - I have not gone searching the web to find it. The security firm, Rits, that has looked at this has advised, first, that it is not correct to say this is technology that can be acquired only by governments.
Second, an issue that arises is that this was presented as if it were some device on the street outside GSOCs’ offices or lurking close to them. I have been told this is a piece of equipment, if it exists, that could be operated within a 2 km to 3 km radius of GSOC’s offices, which when taken with their location means large parts of Dublin city centre. There is no evidence it was focused on GSOC.
When I met Simon O’Brien to go through each of these, I said what I had been told about this kit - which he said to me also - would only access UK network registered mobile telephones. I asked did anyone in the GSCO, including Mr. O'Brien himself, operate on a UK network registered mobile telephone. I was told, “No”. When this matter was before the committee, there was a reference to UK operatives being in GSOC’s building. These were in fact members of Verrimus, an English firm, who had visited the offices. I am not aware of any evidence that anyone tried to organise a surveillance of the operatives who were trying to check out whether there were vulnerabilities in GSOC’s offices.
The problem is that, initially, when one looks at this it raises questions. At the end of it, GSOC itself concluded that there was no definitive evidence of it being under surveillance. The Rits report tells me - this is why it is important these issues are dealt with by a judge - that there is no evidence at all of GSOC being under surveillance. It is not just that there is no definitive evidence. I cannot adjudicate on those or the differences between them.
At that stage, I had not done that check at all. This has come to me subsequently. Simon O’Brien did not put much store in that particular part of the report. The big issue was the suggestion there was a “device”, without referencing what it was, relating to UK 3G network telephones that could have resulted in their being accessed if it was utilised for that purpose. If someone had GSOC under surveillance, presumably it would be through the telephones members of GSOC were operating. When I raised that question, they said “No, they did not have them”. I particularly put that into my speech because that is what I was told.
I was summarising for the Dáil the three threats, GSOC’s conclusions on them as I was advised of them, and the ultimate outcome of GSOC’s investigation. I thought that was the correct and appropriate way to proceed. It was certainly not my intention to mislead anyone. Why would I do so? GSOC was coming to this committee the following day at which any issues of relevance would be discussed. After GSOC presentation, I took the decision that it was important that members of the committee receive the briefs I received so they would be aware of what was in them. There was no intention of playing down or misleading. My role and job was to set out in summary form what I was told, to detail GSOC’s conclusions and that is what I tried to do as best I could.
In the past week or so, there have been many statements, counterstatements, accusations, counteraccusations and arguments. Heads are spinning from all the information, so my questions will be straightforward.
Were the offices of GSOC bugged? If they were, by whom? If not, then why are there accusations that there was a security breach and information leaked from GSOC? Will this review give a definitive answer? The last thing people want is a review claiming there may or may not have been bugging or it may or may not implicate someone. If it is a review of the papers in question, how can the retired High Court judge come to definitive conclusions without hearing witnesses or technical experts?
Two weeks prior to the commencement of these events, the Minister announced his intention to bring forward four proposals to amend the 2005 Garda Síochána Act. Will the outcome of the review change this?
Does the Minister believe the committee should be given full disclosure of documents or information that GSOC may or may not have so it can deliberate on it properly?
I presume the terms of reference for the review are being finalised as we sit here. It is important all colleagues in Cabinet agree to them. The judge will be able to ask people questions. It is my understanding that GSOC, Verrimus and Rits will co-operate. All documentation and information available to me will be furnished to the judge. If there is anything additional the review requires from GSOC it will furnish it. I assume the transcripts of this committee meeting and the previous one will be made available to the judge. I expect any questions required to be asked, can be asked.
While the judge will independently determine how to deal with matters, I would expect him first to read all the material to determine what questions need to be raised and who, if anybody, he needs to meet. The review will submit its report to my Department. I will then submit it to the Cabinet and it will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
With regard to releasing additional documentation to this committee, one of the issues is that some of the documentation I have received is regarded as confidential by GSOC. I have no doubt that material can go to the judge. The difficulty with the Rits report I received is that it is peer-review. There are also aspects of it that should not get general distribution. Away from the heat of politics, the judge will review everything objectively and gives us whatever answers can be given.
Were the offices of GSOC bugged? The terms “anomalies”, “potential threats” and “vulnerabilities” were identified. There is no definitive evidence that the offices were under surveillance at all. I have not been given information that says they were bugged. It has been widely said in the Dáil and elsewhere over the past week that GSOC was bugged, so X, Y and Z follows on from that. I have no evidence that GSOC was bugged. People have been disappointed that I am not talking about GSOC having been bugged. I hope the judge dealing with this matter will address that issue in a manner in which there is full public confidence and that no one can suggest that any particular presentation is being made for any political reasons.
Despite all of the controversy, GSOC seems to be agreed on this and no member of this committee or the House suggests otherwise.
It seems to be the case that no single thing has been identified in GSOC as having been accessed. Arising out of this element, it says that its information systems have not been compromised. Nobody can identify anything arising out of a telephone call that has been accessed. When one cuts through all the issues and concerns, there is no substantive evidence that anything has got into the public domain that is confidential to GSOC other than the document leaked to The Sunday Times, which lit the fuse of this controversy. That seems to be the position.
In fairness to Mr. O'Brien, he obliquely addressed this. He did not address it in detail before the committee because I do not think he wanted to reference what it was that he thought might leak out into the public domain by contributing some credibility to it. However, it was addressed in the documentation I received. I think I mentioned at an early stage to Deputy Mulherin that two operatives within GSOC mistakenly believed that something had found its way into the public domain when this should not have happened and that this was the result of something said by a senior member of the Garda. This then seems to have contaminated the brief that Verrimus was given because it was informed that there had been a breach of security when apparently as far as Mr. O'Brien is concerned, and I presume the other commissioners agree with him, there had been no breach. There was talk of various things being discussed in the public domain but, ironically, the only breach of security for which there is substantive evidence is the document leaked to The Sunday Times. Nobody has suggested that this is a matter of surveillance and it is clearly not a matter of surveillance. For an organisation like GSOC which investigates very serious issues, it is of crucial importance that the integrity of its information systems is maintained. A leak of any information from it regardless of whether it is as a result of surveillance or documentation going out in other ways is a serious matter. I know that is something GSOC is investigating. The breach referred to by the Deputy seems to have been the issue I also discussed with Deputy Ó Snodaigh in respect of which a misunderstanding arose. It would have been helpful if when addressing this committee, the commissioners had explained that issue in the detail in which it was explained to me in the section 103 report I ultimately received.
In respect of the independence of the proposed inquiry and the terms of reference, the Minister in a reply to a previous question said that his Department and the Office of the Attorney General will be involved in it. Is the Minister happy that public confidence in the independence of the process is being satisfied by that arrangement? Could the task of drawing up the terms of reference be given to this committee? Does he think public confidence in the process and the inquiry would be considerably enhanced if that process was pursued? When the report is finalised, will it be laid before and discussed in the House? Will the chair of the inquiry be allowed to extend the terms of reference or will he or she be in a position to go back to the Minister's office to seek to have the terms of reference extended if he or she deems it necessary?
The answer to that is "Yes". The terms of reference are designed insofar as is possible to get at the full truth of all of this. In the context of the terms of reference, I should say that not I but the Attorney General has been in contact with the retired High Court judge who it is anticipated will undertake this task. When the terms of reference are announced, we will announce who that judge is so that the judge being appointed is satisfied that the terms of reference are appropriate. Of course, if there is a difficulty with the terms of reference and the judge asks that they be extended in some shape or form, I could not imagine that there would any difficulty about doing that. I would certainly bring any such proposal if it came to me or through the Attorney General to Cabinet. I think it would have to formally come through me. It would be taken to Cabinet and I could not see any circumstances in which Cabinet would not agree to that. Indeed, I think there is precedent for this in the past.
The procedure we are adopting in appointing a retired judge to conduct an inquiry of the nature proposed is not particularly different to the procedure adopted by previous governments to arrange for an inquiry to be undertaken on difficult or controversial issues or where a matter of a factual nature is in dispute. There is no mystery about this. Of course, we are talking about a retired member of the High Court. His or her brief will be to deal with the matter entirely independently. There would be no point in appointing a retired High Court judge not to do that. Neither I nor any other member of Cabinet, member of this committee, Member of the Dáil or Seanad nor anyone else in the broader community will have influence of any description. The judge will go about his or her work and will be provided with any technical back-up systems required. I was asked about that earlier and omitted to reply to that question. He or she will also be provided with any secretarial assistance required. I presume the back-up technical assistance will be of a nature that is entirely independent and nobody can cast aspersions in any way to suggest that it will be less than independent.
Perhaps there was some suggestion yesterday evening that the technical back-up might be provided by members of the Defence Forces. Of course, in an ideal world, they have great expertise in this area but I know the moment that was suggested, someone would say that I am Minister for Defence and that it is inappropriate that members of Defence Forces become engaged. For fear that this would be perceived as some indirect interference by me or influence from me over the process, technical experts must be identified who belong to neither of the companies involved. It is for the judge to identify appropriate people and whatever resources that are required will be provided to facilitate that.
It is and has always been the position that it is a matter for Cabinet and particularly the Attorney General to make recommendations in this area based on the expertise of the Attorney General of the day as to what are the appropriate terms of reference. The terms of reference for an inquiry of this nature would not in normal course be the subject of debate among committee members. I may be entirely wrong but it could be very difficult for members of the committee to agree on what are the terms of reference. The Attorney General is the law officer of the State and her sole role in this is to ensure that terms of reference that are as broad as possible are provided to facilitate the full and careful addressing of all of the issues relevant to this matter. That is my objective and that of the Cabinet and we will be proceeding in that manner.
Has the issue of ordering, discussing with or asking GSOC to review its internal security to locate who leaked the material to The Sunday Timescome up at any of the Minister's discussions with the chair of the commission?
The chair of the commission expressed concerns about the fact that a leak had occurred and has a genuine and understandable concern that this is a very serious issue for GSOC. GSOC is conducting an internal investigation into this. It is my understanding that it has also sought legal advice. I know no more about that aspect of matters than members of the committee in the context of where that issue stood this day last week. I do not have a more recent report from GSOC on that matter.
I do not want to interfere in any way. It would not be appropriate that I would. GSOC is an independent investigative agency. I assume that, if it has any difficulty in investigating the matter and dealing with it, I will be so advised.
There has been a lot of comment about why should GSOC report to the Minister for Justice and Equality when it is an independent agency. It is an independent agency but, under the statutory provisions enacted in 2005, it has reporting obligations to the Minister for Justice and Equality. I would expect that, if it strikes a difficulty in this area, it is not for me as Minister or my officials to investigate this matter, but if it has a difficulty, I expect that it will report on that to me. It may inform this committee - I do not know. I do not know any more about where that investigation is than I did seven days ago.
Of course it was mentioned by Mr. Simon O'Brien to me when he met me. He briefed me on GSOC's concerns. He advised me that it was investigating the leak, but I have not had a further conversation with him about that matter. Of course I know what he said to this committee; I read the transcript of the proceedings before the committee. As to where that investigation now stands and what progress has been made, other than what I actually read in the newspapers or heard somewhere about GSOC seeking some form of legal advice, I do not think that I have received a formal written brief to say that, but I have in my head that it has sought legal advice because I read that somewhere. It may or may not be accurate.
I do not know at what stage that investigation is. I do not know whether GSOC is close to an outcome. Should it conclude that investigation, I do not know what conclusions it will reach or what the consequences will be. That, at the moment, is a matter internally for GSOC, but if it has difficulties in this area, I would expect that it may either report those difficulties to me or to another authority that it may deem appropriate.
I welcome the Minister. Many of my questions have been answered, but the Minister has several times referenced a matter I wished to ask about, that being, the information upon which the ombudsman commission engaged a public interest investigation. He stated that there was no evidence of Garda involvement. Does he believe that GSOC was wrong to begin that public interest investigation?
My second question is on the leak. From what GSOC stated last week, it is clear that only six or seven people knew that an internal security report had been made. Despite that, it still leaked. Does the Minister believe that GSOC has been compromised in its operation, given the fact that the initial suspicions that led to it beginning a security sweep concerned confidential information appearing in newspapers? Does this show a serious issue with confidentiality and procedures within the ombudsman commission?
My third question is factual. What did the Rits report state about the conference call that rang back? What was the report's explanation?
Just to take the issue of the leak, in fairness to the chairman of the commission, he made it very clearly that it took that matter seriously. I am very anxious that we get back to a space where there is full public confidence in GSOC. It does a very important job. I spent an amount of my time in this Parliament many years ago talking about the need to ensure we had accountability where there were allegations of Garda misconduct. I would have, on behalf of my party, proposed a motion in the Dáil a long time ago seeking to have an inquiry into allegations of Garda misconduct in Donegal. Some five months later we had the Morris tribunal.
I have always believed that there is a crucial need to have a watchdog body. It is very important there is full public confidence in what it does, that its systems are secure and that its information is secure. So, I hope that issue is addressed in a manner in which it is resolved.
Every organisation at some stage has some issue surrounding leaks, no matter how good the organisation is. No organisation, no matter what functions it engages in, does not at some stage in its life have a problem of this nature. So, I am presuming that GSOC is addressing that. It will be addressed and it will not be an issue ultimately that will impact on public confidence. I hope that is the case.
Regarding Deputy Nolan's first question about the public interest inquiry, I have addressed that already. There is nothing I can add to that. Among all the myriad of different issues here, it is an issue, of course, that may be addressed by the judge who is going to look not just simply at that, but at a whole range of other issues. I have said that, when I met Mr. O'Brien, both myself and my officials raised with him - in a subsequent meeting my officials would have had with GSOC members, they also raised it, I am advised - the proportionality of the decision made at that moment to commence that investigation. At this stage I cannot add to what I said previously. There is a question mark about whether, at that moment, there was enough to indicate that it warranted commencing an investigation into An Garda Síochána. I do not know of evidence beyond a concern that two what were called "anomalies", potential threats or whatever had been investigated. In fairness to GSOC, it did not know what was causing the Wi-Fi problem, the telephone issue that the Deputy asked me about. The information I was given was that a test was undertaken on the telephone - I referenced this in my Dáil statement - and that, three seconds later, there was a call back. The report, the brief I received and the conversation I had were along the lines that GSOC tried to investigate this further and could not find anything.
The other information that I had was that this was some sort of telephone apparatus that was only usable or ever could be used for conference calls. Now, I have not seen it, but this was my understanding of it. In fact, it had not been used for anything, certainly not by the current commission. The information was that a sound signal was sent down the telephone and three seconds later it rang back, but the information also was that a telecom companies check had been done. There was no identifiable telephone call of any description recorded into GSOC's offices from any external source. Yes, at the time based on the report that GSOC received, it was something of a mystery, but what it was all about was not clear.
It is one of the issues that the Rits report has addressed. It has produced what I could describe as a theory as to why this happened, and I am very happy to let a judge address these issues with Verrimus, Rits and whatever expertise is there and work it out. The theory is that there was no finding of any external telephone call - this is the Rits theory and I am putting it in non-technical terms - because there was not one. The suggestion is that there was somebody undertaking surveillance, some spook out there who, when this sound came down the telephone, decided to ring back, which is a little bit difficult to understand. The Rits version of this is that when one sends a signal down a telephone of this nature, apparently in GSOC's offices there is some sort of telephone console at the reception area which the telephone receptionist would use to distribute telephone calls around the offices when they come in to the different members of GSOC. So, the Rits theory is that all that happened was the signal was sent down the telephone, it hit the console and it caused a reaction which made the console telephone back up the line. The signal bounced back up and it caused the telephone to ring. It was nothing to do with external telephone calls or surveillance at all.
Looking at that piece of advice, apparently this test was tried another time and that reaction did not happen, according to the Verrimus report. I cannot adjudicate on the technology of this, but there is a possibility there is nothing sinister about this at all.
Again, because of the seriousness with which this issue has been taken - I think in fairness, Deputy Boyd Barrett and I think Deputy Ó Snodaigh made reference to that matter - I want this looked at by a High Court judge. I do not have the technical knowledge to adjudicate between the two reports. It may well be the case that there was nothing sinister about it but it may be the case that there was something sinister about it. In fairness to GSOC, it was never suggested to it that it could have resulted from this telephone consul aspect, it was said that this could not be explained. I have now been given an explanation. We will have to see what the judge makes of it and what the technical advisers to the judge make of it.
I thank the Chairman and the Minister. Will the Minister confirm what knowledge he has about the statements that were made by GSOC where an impression was given that the security sweep was ordered because of comments made by a third party and that the third party is in fact the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan? For clarification purposes, will the Minister confirm if there was any type of authorised surveillance, of any type, on the offices of GSOC at any time in the past? I am talking about authorised surveillance.
The Minister's, and the Government's, whole take on the situation seems to have been - especially at the beginning - to distract attention away from the alleged breach of security itself. Does he now agree that the strategy seems to have, to be blunt, blown up in his face and has led to a lack of confidence in the way that he handled the whole situation?
The Government needs to make its mind up at this stage. It must decide whether it wants an independent ombudsman in power to investigate. Or does the Government consider GSOC and its offices to be a nuisance that it must put up with? Shall I keep asking questions?
I can tell the Deputy that I am one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the work that is required of an organisation like GSOC. Way before he was in this House it was the type of body that I wanted to see in place. That is one of the reasons why, for example, we had to set up the Morris tribunal. It was because there was no body that existed that could independently investigate allegations of misconduct by the gardaí.
When we had the Abbeylara inquiry I was a member of the justice committee that commenced that inquiry. As the Deputy will know, it ended up in the courts because members of the gardaí were unhappy that a parliamentary committee conducted that inquiry. I have spent a large amount of my time, unusually, in the High Court and the Supreme Court arguing why an Oireachtas committee should be able to undertake that work. The Supreme Court and the High Court took a different view. Why did I do that? I believed that where there are serious concerns about Garda failure it is important to have independent oversight.
All I want to see out of this is restored public confidence in GSOC. Now GSOC is the watchdog. There is a difficulty - I am not saying that it has happened in this case - that if something goes wrong with the watchdog then who watches the watchdog? We cannot have a myriad or series of organisations in place. Difficulties have arisen out of this issue and we have appointed a judge to deal with it. I hope that at the end of it, whatever the difficulties are, they will be identified. If there is learning required by GSOC, by the Garda Commissioner, by myself or by anybody arising out what is determined by the judge then that learning should be implemented.
It was referenced I think earlier, but nearly two and a half weeks ago - that was Monday fortnight and before any of this controversy broke - I issued a press statement which is on my Department's website. In view of my anxiety to ensure that GSOC can properly carry out its functions I made an announcement - among other announcements - that we were going to amend the legislation in regard to GSOC. I said I was going to bring before Cabinet proposals to address some of the issues necessary with regard to GSOC. The Act has existed for a number of years and GSOC itself is seeking amendments. That is why in the Cabinet decision yesterday, in addition to the work that is going on in my Department to prepare amendments, we said we wanted the justice committee to take submissions and make recommendations. What is brought before Cabinet will be the result of an inclusive consultative process. Why am I doing that? It is because I want GSOC to do its work and to be able to do so and I also want the public to have confidence in that work.
I shall speedily answer a couple of other questions. The Deputy referenced what knowledge I have that the security sweep was required because of comments by the Garda Commissioner. We addressed that issue a long time ago. I do not know whether the comments of the alleged senior member of the Garda were the Garda Commissioner's or not because I have not asked him, nor have I asked GSOC. GSOC has said this it is fiction, that there was a misunderstanding by two operatives in GSOC, that there was no comments made by a senior garda despite the report in The Sunday Timesthat indicated someone had breached GSOC's security. GSOC said that a document had been prepared in error that indicated that. The document prepared in error, and I think Simon O'Brien referred to it, was basically whatever document contained the request to Verrimus that it undertake work because it seemed to have indicated that there had been a breach. This was then repeated in the GSOC reports.
The Deputy asked was it the Garda Commissioner? I think the Sunday Independent addressed this, referred to the Garda Commissioner and addressed why this was not accurate. I had no engagement with the Sunday Independent, and that did not come from any leak or conversation I had with the Sunday Independentbefore someone suggests it to me. That part of it - I hate to use the word because people have been using it in other circumstances - was a puff of smoke. Simon O'Brien himself said a mistake was made within GSOC. I do think it is unfortunate that if one is going to have a security sweep undertaken the company one asks to undertake the sweep is not given careful instructions. It is unfortunate that the remit it was given was based on a misunderstanding within GSOC. I would hope whatever created that is addressed because I think that it is very important if a security sweep is being undertaken - in fairness to the company undertaking it - that its brief is clear and it is not resulting from a misunderstanding within the organisation that gave the brief.
The question was asked if there was any authorised surveillance on GSOC. I presume the question is have I authorised surveillance on GSOC. Of course I have not.
Has the Minister been given an updated report from GSOC related to the investigations into who leaked the story in the first instance? Is it true that it is down to the seven people, as we have discussed already? When all of this is over if it transpires that there was absolutely no surveillance of any type on the building then that side of the story is a bag of smoke. The story then becomes who leaked the information and the report, why did they leak it and what did they want to get out of leaking the story to the Sunday newspaper. That will transpire to be the big issue and story but it is not what it started out as.
I welcome the Minister and his officials. Chairman, may I raise at the outset an issue arising from last week's meeting with GSOC? I put the following question to Commissioner Simon O'Brien: "Does GSOC occupy the entire building from which it works?" and his response was that it did not, but I recall Commissioner Carmel Foley correcting that, but that does not appear on the transcript. That is an important point. Can the Chairman have the matter checked out?
I asked Commissioner O'Brien whether GSOC occupied the entire building. He said: " We occupy the entire building." This response was subsequently clarified by Commissioner Carmel Foley, but that does not appear in the transcript.
May I assist the committee on the point raised by Deputy Harrington? Commissioner Foley offered that information in an interjection when she was responding to my questions which were at a later stage in the proceedings, so it does not follow in sequence.
Thank you, Chairman. I have a number of questions for the Minister for Justice and Equality. At present we do not have the terms of reference of the review to be conducted by a judge. When is it expected to have the terms of reference?
Will the Minister outline to the committee if there are elements of conflict between the conclusions drawn by Verrimus and Rits on the technical issues that have been outlined on the three anomalies?
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, is an investigative body and the commissioners referred in their testimony to an investigation ongoing into the security breach in GSOC in regard to the report that appeared in the media. Has GSOC indicated to the Minister or to his Department whether the investigation will continue in light of the appointment of the High Court judge?
May I interrupt? The clerk to the committee has checked out the transcript and wishes to point out that the correction made by Ms Carmel Foley appears on page 28 of the transcript in the second contribution by Ms. Foley.
I presume they are continuing their investigation. It is not the job of the High Court judge to investigate, but as it is part of the overall issue, the High Court judge may certainly raise questions about that matter. There is nothing to prevent GSOC continuing to do whatever it is doing.
There are technical issues in dispute between Verrimus and Rits. Quite clearly there are differences between them on a number of matters and I think it is right that the judge addresses those matters with whatever technical help is needed.
I hope that by the end of the day the terms of reference will be published and the name of the judge announced. I said earlier that, as far as I knew, that the conference call system is not used. That was my understanding but my officials advised me that in fact it is apparently used from time to time but it does not influence the technical issue of whether the test that was done indicates whether it was in some way compromised. I want to say that for fear that somebody will tell me-----
The Minister is clearly stating that he accepts that neither he, I nor anybody on this committee has the technical expertise to adjudicate on that, and that the High Court judge is the best placed person-----
Does the Minister consider that the appointment of the High Court judge would cause some concern or undermine the work of GSOC as an investigative commission?
I believe the Minister is not satisfied with the current legislation that provides for the work of GSOC. The Minster may have answered this already but will he comment?
I will be brief. Last week I was really concerned. Based on the knowledge I had up to Thursday, I was really concerned that if we had an inquiry into this matter, it would suggest a lack of confidence in GSOC. GSOC had investigated, reached conclusions, terminated the investigation and had found no definitive evidence of surveillance or of Garda misconduct. Since then I have received all the additional information. We have the "techie" information conflict, there is additional information which I received from GSOC in the 103 report, there is correspondence which I have had with GSOC, and there has been the ongoing public controversy with claim and counterclaim, allegation and counter-allegation. This is debilitating and has an impact on the capacity of GSOC to get on with its work.
There are continuing claims that the Garda Síochána in some way or other had GSOC under surveillance, even though GSOC has said what I have recounted. This has a capacity, if things continue the way they are going, to impact on public confidence in the Garda and GSOC. Some of the people who have accused me of being the cause of all of this are the people who have been raising all of the questions in regard to all of this. Every day there is a new series of questions but the real issues are the additional information that came to me, the conflict in the technical advice and the obvious situation that had arisen whereby it did not seem it would be ensured, without a judge being appointed, that this issue would be finally addressed in a context that people could be assured that the outcome was independent, with no political claims or charges and nobody being accused of being on one side or another. I am on no side. My only interest from the start has been to establish the truth of what happened and the implications for the Garda and GSOC. We must establish whether there was Garda involvement, whether GSOC was compromised, and most important of all, whether GSOC now has the security systems in place necessary to ensure there are no potential threats and that it has the expertise to judge that. The appointment of the judge, based on the way in which this matter developed following on from the hearings before this committee, is the correct decision. I hope it will bring clarity to bear on it. I hope it will not undermine GSOC in the future.
Time is running on and the Minister must be in the Dáil at 7.30 p.m. for Private Members' business. I suggest that the Deputy ask a final question and the Minister can incorporate it in his response to the next questioner.
The following members are listed to ask questions. Deputy Charles Flanagan, who is not present, but if he returns, he will speak, Deputy Halligan, Senator O'Keeffe, Senator Thomas Byrne, and Deputies Jack Wall, Lucinda Creighton, Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Thomas Pringle.
I am not trying to delay the proceedings but it is important that every Deputy, whether a member of the committee or not, should be able to question the Minister and the Minister should be here, even if he has to come back.
We will try to facilitate everybody. I will allow six minutes to those who are not members of this committee. Let me add that members do not need to take eight minutes, if the questions have been asked already and the answers given, the member does not need to repeat the same questions.
I hope members will not be offended by the following suggestion on questions I have answered already.
I hope members will not suggest I am not taking their questions seriously. If I have answered a question, I will simply state I have already answered the question. I do not want to cause any offence to anyone by saying that.
On the investigation and report the Minister received, the Minister stated the IMSI equipment could have been in any location within a wide radius of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's offices. Did the investigation assess other premises and buildings in the vicinity of GSOC's offices? For example, I note there is an outlet on Ormond Quay which sells surveillance equipment, metal detectors and Garda accessory equipment. Did the Minister receive any report on any part of the investigation that considered a wider geographical area in the vicinity of GSOC's offices?
The answer is "No". I have no knowledge of whether there was a check done of premises within a radius of between 2 km and 3 km of the office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. A large number of premises are engaged in selling different types of equipment. The answer is "No". As I believe one of the report's stated - I do not want to delay members by going back through them - there was a broad range of possibilities as to what was actually detected and what its relevance was. I cannot add to that.
On the basis of the Minister's evidence, one would conclude that the sweep carried out by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was routine. Having listened to the evidence given last week, it is my understanding that the three commissioners took it upon themselves to leave GSOC office and speak in private in coffee houses to avoid any electronic or e-mail contact. When the Minister appointed Mr. Simon O'Brien as chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission we were informed that Mr. O'Brien was the territorial police commander in the Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom, commanding police across 11 boroughs in north-east London with a staff of more than 9,000 reporting to him. Not only did he have extensive experience of policing at a senior level, but he also had an excellent knowledge of the Garda Síochána and the policing environment in which it operates. In his evidence to the joint committee, Mr. O'Brien stated: "GSOC has been put in the grave position where a secret document has been put in the public domain." He also stated, in reference to the covert nature of surveillance, the following:
Mr. O'Brien is a policeman of long standing. The three commissioners had serious suspicions that surveillance was being undertaken. In addition, Verrimus has today stood by the evidence in the initial report, which the Minister, unlike members, has seen. The Minister outlined what he was told by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Did the Verrimus report specifically identify the anomalies as threats? We have been informed that there was no innocent explanation for at least one of the anomalies. It is important, therefore, that we examine that matter.
If one is the subject of surveillance and one has any knowledge of that surveillance, the surveillance is failing... we have no precision; we have suspicion. We have suspected activity and nothing, in my view and professional judgment, would have got past the threshold test to say we had an offence.
On the sweep, I refer the Senator to the brief that I received and distributed to members. This is what I relied on, together with my conversation with Mr. O'Brien. The brief states:
Standard operating procedures gave rise to the security sweep. It was not suggested to me that the sweep was conducted because of any concerns about any matters. I appreciate that the opening statement by Simon O'Brien to the joint committee could have given rise to that impression. Those matters that he detailed as issues in the background were not detailed to me. Nevertheless, in fairness to Mr. O'Brien, he clearly explained this in the later portions of the engagement he had with the committee. I will not repeat the quotation I attributed to him. If Senator Ó Clochartaigh carefully reads the transcript, a whole series of similar statements were made by him.
On 23 to 27 September 2013, in accordance with standard operating procedures, a security sweep was conducted of GSOC's Head Office. This was conducted by a UK security firm as the Irish firm that had previously conducted such operations for GSOC had gone out of business.
No, our time is limited. Does the Minister believe an issue arises in respect of the competence of Mr. O'Brien who spent €18,000 of taxpayers' money on Verrimus to assess what would appear to be a spurious threat to GSOC's security?
I will not say that. It was absolutely right that an organisation like GSOC have an appropriate security firm undertake a security sweep and check on its offices to ensure that its systems were secure. It is right that this should happen with some regularity because of the extraordinary evolution and changes in technology. I was surprised that 2013 was the first occasion that such a comprehensive sweep was undertaken, the previous one having been done in 2007. Again, in fairness to GSOC, I know it had other checks carried out. However, the main one was first done in 2007 and the one was that the replica of this one was the 2007 one. It was the 2007 company-----
Given the covert nature of surveillance, does the Minister agree it is difficult to prove covert surveillance has taken place? We understand that Verrimus, a company with extensive experience across the world, stated it believed there was a threat.
It identified them as vulnerabilities; the word "vulnerabilities" was used. My recollection is that a variety of words, including "potential threats" and "anomalies" were used. It may well be that if I went back into the documentation, I might find the word "threats" without the word "potential" beside it. I know the words "potential threats" were specifically used.
On the coffee issue, what Simon O'Brien said, which he did not say to me, was that at some stage the commissioners left their offices to engage in conversation and they were in some cafe - I do not know which one - on Capel Street. It seems, if one reads the documentation, that this was not a reference to any of the three threats. I had difficulty fully understanding that because I had not been told about it. One of the issues apparently on which GSOC got advice-----
One of the issues they had advice on was the vulnerability of mobile telephones. It seemed to come as a surprise that the security firm advised them how vulnerable mobile telephones are. We all have these gizmos and the reality is that they are extraordinarily vulnerable to any individual who may want to access what one is saying on the telephone or one's texts or e-mails, if one uses those on the telephone. GSOC explained what it did and I have some difficulties with it. Let the judge deal with why it believed it was necessary or even whether, by doing that, the commissioners were necessarily in a secure environment. I do not want to comment any further on that.
Does G2 or the Garda Special Branch have access to an IMSI catcher, or stingray, as it is known? It seems one of these devices was used to snoop on GSOC. If so, what safeguards, if any, surround the use of such equipment?
I am not aware that they have such equipment. According to the report that I have seen, the IMSI device that was mentioned is a device that would only access UK network connected telephones.
I had a conversation with Simon O'Brien and, as I stated, I was interested in learning whether any member of GSOC was utilising a UK network connected telephone. I was told that none of them had one. In the presentation that Mr. O'Brien made to the committee, he made a slight comment that maybe it could be changed to access other types of telephones. I genuinely do not know if that is the case. It has never been suggested to me. It has always been suggested to me and the reports I have received suggest to me that it could only access UK network telephones. Perhaps this is an issue that the judge will examine in the context of the inquiry.
The Government technology comment comes from Verrimus. The information that this is available on the web and can otherwise be acquired has come from, I think, the Rits company. Mr. Simon O'Brien himself was sceptical that this technology is only available through government agencies. In the context of that there are one or two quotes here. Mr. Kieran FitzGerald, on page 31 of the transcript of the proceedings before this committee, said:
Then Mr. O'Brien, in response to Deputy Lucinda Creighton, who raised this issue, also said:
The report presented to us by these experts says it was technology available only to government agencies in the normal run of things but there are many things lawfully available to governments and lawful agencies that may be available to other people in an unlawful context. We should bear that in mind. Technology that may be available to be deployed lawfully by government agencies is perhaps a better interpretation.
That is the particular stated opinion of the security company. Whether it is individuals or a state agency, that is the opinion of that particular report.
I shall ask again. In terms of IMSI technology, has anybody in the Minister's Department explained to him that if IMSI technology was detected that it can be utilised not just for UK 3G but other telephone networks? Would the Minister accept that if IMSI technology has been detected, regardless of whether it was Government standard, that it would be used for surveillance purposes? Is that something the Minister would accept?
I do not want to go beyond my knowledge of technology and I am very careful not to do that. I think all of those issues which the Chairman is raising, which are really interesting issues, are issues for the judge who will conduct the inquiry, based on the technical information he gets. I knew absolutely nothing about IMSI technology until it appeared over the horizon following The Sunday Times report. What I was quoting here from commissioner Kieran FitzGerald and then from the Chairman, I do not need to repeat the quote which is on page 36 of the transcript, clearly indicated their scepticism that this was something that would only be used by government agencies. In fact, in fairness, that was entirely consistent with what Mr. Simon O'Brien said to me when I met him, which is why I did not attach huge importance to what the type of technology was; what I was concerned to report to the Dáil was the nature of the "anomaly" that was identified, its relevance to GSOC in a telephone context.
I am told by Rits that it may not be IMSI technology at all, that there may be other explanations such as some sort of booster system with regard to telephone networks. Rits's view is that it was not conclusively IMSI technology either. The last thing I want to do is to attempt to adjudicate between two different companies, both of whom say that they have expertise in these areas.
I welcome the Minister. We have heard much hysteria, spin and hype in the past couple of weeks on the issue which is not helping the situation. GSOC has been in the dock for not reporting to the Minister and the Garda. The situation has been likened to the suggestion that the victim of the crime was to blame for the crime because it did not report to the Garda. I believe it did not report to the Garda because, initially, it believed it was the Garda who had it under surveillance. Subsequently, everything has changed to a position where GSOC, the Minister and the Garda have all cosied up to mend the fractured relationships that certainly exist between GSOC and the Garda. Perhaps I can stick to the facts for a few minutes. Three different potential security breaches were identified between September and October. We all know that modern surveillance techniques ensure that the presence of interception cannot be definitely established. I have checked with security firms and they will tell one that. However, in one of the three instances, the possibility that GSOC was not bugged was rated at close to nil by Verrimus. I think it said that the possibility that GSOC was bugged was "close or nil" or "nil to 1%", but I am near enough to it. This was stated by the countersurveillance company which discovered it. This is a company that has worked around the world and is reported to do a good job when it goes in to do something. We know this to be a fact. Everything beyond that fact is speculation, well-grounded speculation by many people, but speculation nonetheless. The implications of that particular fact is enormous not to mention particularly sinister. It is not simply a question of asking people to move on. That, to me, is patronising, it is offensive and an insult to the intelligence of the Irish people. If one looks at exactly what Verrimus has said, the vast majority of people believe something happened in GSOC. I do not care if it has changed its mind. I believe, based on this security analysis, that something has happened.
The Minister is responsible for overseeing justice, security and policing in our country. Can the Minister say with such certainty - and he said it so quickly - that there was not Garda involvement in the alleged bugging? If that is the case, would the Minister have information that someone else was responsible? We all know that the Americans are putting surveillance on everybody. We also know that the systems that were used or put in place were systems that are used by governments. If the Minister was quick to come out and say that there was nothing, that the Garda did not do it, I come back to what Verrimus said. The Minister is in conflict with Verrimus. Verrimus said that between zero and 1% at least, or, close to nil, there was some counter-----
Can the Minister state categorically whether such information exists that somebody else had bugged GSOC? Can he say if he was in possession of that information or is there a possibility that revealing that information would jeopardise a criminal investigation? Would the Minister agree that even if there is even a remote possibility that GSOC was bugged it does warrant a criminal investigation, not by a judge who was appointed in 1996 by a Fine Gael Government? I am not casting aspersions on that judge but I do not think people would select a judge in this instance. Why has the Minister continued to employ that-----
I am very happy to address all the issues the Deputy raised. There is a series of assertions that, if I ignore them, it would be quite inappropriate because they would be left hanging in the air. The first question the Deputy raised was: why did I so quickly say there was no Garda involvement for the alleged bugging? I did not, quickly, do anything. What I did was recite what GSOC told me, what Mr. Kieran FitzGerald said on "Prime Time". The answer was, "There is no evidence of Garda misconduct". If there was evidence of Garda misconduct I would say so.
Kieran FitzGerald said on "Prime Time" that there has been a lot of finger pointing at the Garda but there was no basis for it. GSOC carried out the investigation and stated that it found nothing. I did not rush out to say anything. I was not acting as some sort of arbiter or referee between the Garda and GSOC. I was simply reporting to the House what I was told. It did not matter what GSOC concluded on this issue, because we have had a week of allegations that the Garda must have had GSOC under surveillance, despite GSOC stating that there is no evidence it was under surveillance. These assertions by people have continued into this evening. People say they are standing behind GSOC and they want a body that independently investigates things, and then question the conclusions that GSOC has made, and they target me for saying something dreadful by simply repeating the conclusions-----
It was said I have been a disgrace, but the reality is that all I am doing is reporting what GSOC stated. GSOC stated that there is no evidence of Garda misconduct. It has been said that there is no evidence that the Garda had GSOC under surveillance. All I can do is repeat this.
Did somebody else have GSOC under surveillance? We are back to the main issue. Anomalies were identified. Potential threats were identified. Vulnerabilties were identified. There is a dispute between two different security companies on the extent to which anything threatening at all existed. GSOC has stated that none of its systems was compromised, no information was accessed, and there is no evidence that a single telephone call in which GSOC members engaged was overheard. It may well be that telephone calls were overheard and we just do not know, but there is no evidence of any of this. It is wrong to assume that GSOC was bugged, or that it was under surveillance. Some technical issues that arose in respect of equipment, some of which are now explained. The third report from Verrimus makes things very clear about the issue of the Wi-Fi and the local business which turned out to be the Insomnia coffee shop. Nobody is suggesting that people are going in there to drink coffee and tuning into a Wi-Fi that performs no function.
The Deputy made what I think was supposed to be a critical reference to everybody "cosying up". The Garda Síochána performs a function, the Garda Commissioner performs a function, and GSOC performs its function. My role in all of this is to ensure the independence and integrity of both bodies, to address legislative issues that need to be addressed, to ensure that if one or other body is not co-operating in the necessary functions to be undertaken, that those issues are addressed. Of course it is important that the chairman of GSOC has a constructive working relationship with the Garda Commissioner. Arising out all of this, there was a meeting between both of them in which they had an exchange. I am not privy to the nature of that. It is important that they have a constructive working relationship and when issues arise, that the Garda co-operate with GSOC in enabling that body to investigate any matters that do arise. The Deputy may not have intended it this way, but to suggest in a deprecating fashion that they "cosied up" and that this meant something inappropriate happened is not fair to either the Garda or GSOC.
It is just one question, but I want to clear an inaccuracy. I am not here to defend or attack GSOC, the Garda or the Minister, who is well capable of defending himself. GSOC stated, only last year, that it finds the failure by the Garda to release information unacceptable. It also stated that its inquiries are regularly frustrated by the refusal by officers to hand over documents. On one occasion, GSOC was forced to wait 542 days, so it does not have a good relationship with the Garda Commissioner.
Why has the Minister continued to imply that GSOC has an express obligation in law to report these concerns to him? He has implied that section 80(5) and section 103 place that express obligation on GSOC, when it does not.
Verrimus has stated, in a reference to wholly inaccurate reporting, that a mobile telephone cannot create a 3G base station and that it is impossible that operated telephones were the source of the leaks. Verrimus also stated that a Wi-Fi device that sits on a secure, internal WLAN could not communicate with any other device outside its own secure network. Verrimus released that statement yesterday and today, and further stated that it stands over everything that it has said. If Verrimus is stating that the likelihood of the office not being bugged is rated at "close to nil", surely that warrants a criminal investigation.
An investigation has already been conducted by GSOC and it has reached conclusions on that investigation. That is something that people have lost sight of throughout all of this. We have had confidence in GSOC when it reports Garda misconduct, and when it reports that there is no Garda misconduct and that there is no definitive evidence of surveillance, I must stand over the conclusions GSOC reached on those issues.
Verrimus stated that the very fact of the existence of UK mobile telephones could not create the effect, and the Deputy is absolutely right on this. The report I read on that had some misunderstanding in it. To use non-technical language, was there some device out there somewhere which could access telephones used by GSOC employees? The answer, based on the report, is that there was not. Was there some device out there which might possibly access telephones attached to the UK network and that were registered in the UK? According to Verrimus, the answer appears to be "Yes". According to Rits, there is an alternative possible explanation to what was found. Go figure. I hope the judge can, because I do not have the technical knowledge to adjudicate between those issues.
I thank the Minister for his patience. It has been a long hearing so far. When the chairman of GSOC came before the committee and was asked why he decided not to inform the Minister or the Garda Commissioner under section 80(5) or section 102 of the 2005 Act, he said that he believed it was the right thing to do at that time. The Minister does not seem to agree with that assessment by the chairman of GSOC. In his private meeting with him and with other members of the commission, did the Minister ask him the reason he felt he ought not inform the Minister or the Commissioner? Did the chairman elaborate any reasons for that?
In his statement last night, the Minister said the following.
The chairman, in his presentation to the joint Oireachtas committee, clearly did not accept that the technology referred to could only be obtained by government agencies, despite the statement to this effect in their security consultants' report. I did not reference it in my speech to the Dáil last week as the chairman clearly placed no reliance on that advice and this is clear from his own comments to the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions.
I assume those comments that the Minister referred to are the responses from the chairman to questioning from me at the hearing last week, when he said: "This is the world that we live in and kit that used to be only in the hands of government agencies can be replicated." I am keen to know whether, during the Minister's meeting with the ombudsman commission last week, The Minister or any of his officials at the meeting asked the chairman of the ombudsman commission or any other member of the commission about their views on the Verrimus report findings in respect of whether the specialist firm indicated this level of technology was available only to government agencies. Did any member of the commission voluntarily express the view on the Verrimus report that the commission placed no reliance on its advice? If so, could the Minister elaborate some more on what was said to him privately at that meeting? I assume that as the Minister for Justice and Equality and as the Minister for Defence the Minister regularly gets briefings from technology experts in the Army, the police force or from outside parties such that he could have reason to question the credibility of Verrimus and its findings. Will the Minister elaborate on whether he probed the matter and whether he established that there was no reliance placed by the ombudsman commission or the chairman on that advice? Can I ask a third question?
I am curious about the Rits report that was commissioned. I understand it was commissioned by the Department of Justice and Equality or the Minister. I am keen to hear a little more about how, when, why and what the tendering process was, if there was one, and how long Rits took to carry out the report. I am unclear on when it was commissioned and therefore I am unclear on how long the company spent on the report. There is a question relating to the reliability of that report. It seems to contradict everything, from what I have heard of the Minister's evidence today, contained in the Verrimus report about the security sweep, the three different elements, and so on. Is the Minister satisfied it is an entirely independent company? I note it has done a good deal of work for Departments to date. I gather Verrimus has not done any work for Departments, at least not to my knowledge. This is important if we are to rely on the report from Rits, which seems to have been hastily put together. It is based on a review of work already done by Verrimus, but not on any first-hand experience or investigation of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission headquarters. Can we can have full confidence in it and its veracity, authenticity and reliability?
Let us take Rits first. It is an Irish company. It is an independent information security consultancy that has been delivering services to Irish clients since 1990. It is a company that does not sell any security products. It has been retained over the years by many organisations in the public and private sectors, including the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, to do security work, although it did not carry out the general sweeps to which we have referred. It has acted as information security adviser as well as being retained to deliver highly technical complex services such as digital forensics and penetration testing. It is frequently called upon by the Irish media to comment on current information technology or information technology related security issues. It has done work for Departments. There was absolutely no time to engage in a tendering process in the context of the urgency of dealing with this matter. Since Rits was a body recognised as having expertise in this area, it was asked to do a peer review of all the relevant information and the reports received from Verrimus and to advise on these.
In respect of the peer review, did the Minister's Department advise him that Rits would have the same experience and technological expertise in respect of surveillance and counter-surveillance as Verrimus? Does he see both companies at the same level of competence and expertise? He is comparing like with like. It is an important clarification.
Of course their mutual level of competence and expertise is something that may be addressed and considered by the judge. Therefore, I have no wish to comment on the level of expertise of either firm.
My departmental officials may wish to comment on this but their view was that it was an appropriate company. I did not know of the company. The view was it was an appropriate and reliable company to carry out a peer review. The peer review might well have concluded by agreeing with all the information that Verrimus gave to GSOC. I did not know what the peer review was going to say. During the course of the peer review the company asked-----
Perhaps I will finish my comments. I am keen to finish the other questions Deputy Creighton raised. During the course of the peer review, Rits had some queries about the equipment in the GSOC offices. A request was made to the GSOC offices to clarify some matters relating to equipment. As I understand it, the clarifications were provided. I do know the outcome of all this but I took the view, bearing in mind the level of concern about these issues, the complexity of the matter and the nature of the reports I received, which I examined carefully, that it was important to have that engagement. It was no more than that.
Deputy Creighton also highlighted that when the chairman came before the committee, he detailed or referred to not giving me information. What he actually said is on page 6 of the transcript:
With regard to why the results were not reported, the report was in my possession only just prior to the Christmas break. I had to think very carefully about the need to report matters to the Minister and other parties. At the time I made a strategic decision not to report what could be described as suspicious activity that did not meet the threshold of an offence ... My decision-making at the time just prior to Christmas looked at the potential damage that could be done to public confidence if these suspicious activities were in the public domain. We had opened an investigation under section 102(4) and the threshold test was achieved, but, by definition, any likely offence might involve a Garda member.I will stop there for one moment. I do not know that the threshold test was achieved or why, by definition, any likely offence might involve a Garda member. These conclusions were reached in the absence of evidence. That is a matter for the judge to look at. Clearly there was a view that there were vulnerabilities and potential threats and the conclusion was reached to invoke section 104(2). The chairman went on to say:
The level of public disquiet about allegations that gardaí might be involved in that type of activity was immense. I took the decision alone not to report at the time.Later on he states that he regrets not informing me. I have no wish to make any more of it than it is. The commentary from both myself and An Taoiseach with regard to me not being informed arose in circumstances whereby this matter came into the public domain in The Sunday Times, whereby it was presented in a particular way and whereby I received no briefing. Under section 103 of the legislation there is a word "shall". Section 103(1) suggests the Minister shall be briefed when an investigation of this nature takes place. Section 103(2) contains provisions which allow GSOC to determine, in particular circumstances, that it will not brief me. I have heard Members saying this means the commission did not have to brief me. What it actually means is it did not have to brief me if GSOC, as a collective group, met and made a decision that one of the specific provisions under section 103(2) was invoked.
No, my question was specifically in respect of the decision of the ombudsman not to inform the Minister and whether, in their private meeting, the chairman elaborated on the reasons for that.
I asked him why I learned of it in the newspaper and why, if it was a section 102 investigation, I was not informed.
I do not want to misrepresent his explanation which was consistent with what is on page 6 of the transcript, which is that he got this before Christmas and considered whether he should do it and he did not do it and he now regrets that decision. It was no more than that. GSOC operates under specific statutory obligations which are twofold. The first is that when an investigation is commenced, there is an obligation to inform the Minister "of progress". No such report was made. I am not aware of whether GSOC met as a collective group and decided, because of an issue arising under section 103(2), not to report progress. That has never been suggested to me nor was it suggested to the committee. When the investigation was complete, they should have met again as a collective group and decided whether they should have reported. Simon O'Brien has apologised.
Let us be realistic about life; no one makes the right decision on every issue all of the time. I have no interest in pillorying any member of GSOC in any shape or form but it should not happen that something of this nature, which no one can say is not serious, has occupied a week and a half of Oireachtas time and a substantial amount of this committee's time. No Minister for Justice should be in a position where he or she discovers that this type of investigation was undertaken and that it was concluded with a conclusion of no Garda misconduct, no definitive evidence of surveillance, without the Minister being told and the Minister having to discover it in a Sunday newspaper. My obligation as Minister is to ensure I have information to furnish to Members of the Oireachtas. However, without receiving a report I cannot do so.
If Deputy Creighton is satisfied with the responses, I will ask the Secretary General a question on a point of clarification. In his view, has the Rits company the same level of experience in surveillance and counter-surveillance as Verrimus? If this is so, should the committee take heed of the analyses from both companies?
Mr. Brian Purcell:
It is our understanding that Rits is a company which is an acknowledged expert in this area. As the Minister pointed out, the company has been used by a number of private sector companies as well as Departments and agencies, including GSOC. The company is frequently asked by members of the media who are reporting on this type of issue to provide expert advice. So far as the Department is concerned, the company has an impeccable reputation.
I apologise for my absence as there was a vote in the Seanad. The Minister has spent much of the meeting muddying the waters with all sorts of red herrings. The issue of Insomnia and Spar has been a complete red herring. He has dismissed the Wi-Fi issue when in fact GSOC explained in its briefing to the Minister that it was a concern. The tenor of the Minister's contribution has been to dismiss Verrimus and to accept Rits but we have not seen what is in the Rits report, yet we are meant to accept that somehow Rits has all the answers. Why is there an investigation of the leaking of the Verrimus report but no investigation of the Rits report?
The Senator may not have heard me say that I am not adjudicating between Verrimus and Rits. As Minister I received two different reports of a technical nature. They clearly disagree with each other and it was one of the issues which motivated my recommending and discussing with the Cabinet the holding of an inquiry by a judge. That is what will happen. I am not favouring one over the other. I am just explaining to members who have asked questions that there are different explanations for these things and the technical people do not seem to agree.
Just to clarify, it has been widely reported that there has been a leak of the Verrimus report from GSOC. The Senator is asking about a report in the media yesterday which was almost identical to the Rits account that the Minister gave to the Dáil last night and today. What is the Minister's view?
The coffee shop issue does not come from the Rits report at all. I think that was misreported today and I did not say that in the Dáil yesterday. The coffee shop issue-----
Let me explain the coffee shop issue, which is very straightforward. I received the section 103 report from GSOC. The section 103 report in the context of what Verrimus said detailed that the Wi-Fi issue was dealt with in the context of it being identified that in a business close by, there was a Wi-Fi system that accessed Bitbuzz. For some unexplained reason it was, on occasions, randomly connecting into GSOC's Wi-Fi system. I wanted to get clarity on what was the situation with regard to Wi-Fi.
I read the Irish Independent. My officials can confirm that on Tuesday morning, in response to a query to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, I told my officials I wanted to know if there was a local business premises, the location of the premises and the relevance of this information. It was confirmed on the morning of Tuesday that it was this premises in the ground floor. I think I said earlier it was somewhere between 9.45 a.m. and 10.15 a.m. but the Secretary General informs me that we only discovered the information around 11 in the morning and it was not something leaked from the Rits report.
The issue about Insomnia and Spar was just added in to muddy the waters. GSOC said in its briefing to the Minister that it did not have a Wi-Fi network. The Minister described a Wi-Fi system but GSOC had a Wi-Fi device which was connecting into someone else's Wi-Fi network.
The Minister has been referring to the Wi-Fi system. GSOC was concerned as a result. The Minister said that because it emanated from Spar or Insomnia, there were no concerns, but in my view this does not change the situation. I refer to the precedent for the inquiry. The last similar inquiry was the Lourdes hospital inquiry into sexual abuse chaired by a retired High Court judge. Is that the precedent for this inquiry?
The inquiry being set up is based on the types of inquiry held previously. For example, I remember being very anxious that there be an inquiry into matters in Donegal. My recollection was that a senior counsel rather than a judge was appointed to prepare a report for the former Minister for Justice, John O'Donoghue, on allegations about matters in Donegal concerning Garda misconduct. That report dealt with very serious allegations of Garda misconduct and it resulted in the Morris tribunal. However, there are no allegations of Garda misconduct in this case. GSOC has said that there is no evidence of Garda misconduct-----
The Senator was asking me about the format. There have been a number of occasions in the past where issues required an independent assessment and previous governments asked either senior counsel or members of the Judiciary or retired members to prepare a report of a similar nature to this particular report being sought.
The reason I raise this point is that there is currently a High Court challenge by the Minister for Health against the Office of the Information Commissioner in regard to the Lourdes hospital sexual abuse inquiry. Nobody in the media seems to have spotted what is going on there. Some of the people who gave evidence to the retired High Court judge who oversaw that inquiry applied under freedom of information for the transcripts of their evidence. The Department of Health refused to release them on the basis that the transcripts belonged to the judge and not to the Department and were, therefore, exempt from freedom of information. The Information Commissioner disagreed with the Department and a High Court case is pending to resolve the matter. Is that the type of precedent we are looking at here? The difficulty is that the inquiry the Minister is setting up seems to have no powers whatsoever and no statutory basis. The Minister has acknowledged that it will be able to invite people to take part, "invite" being a very significant word in this context. I wonder how the inquiry will get answers and get to the truth of the matter and the very different interpretations we are hearing. The version coming from official Ireland - the establishment view - may well be the right one, but there is an alternative view being put forward.
I have another brief question.
I apologise for interrupting, Senator Byrne, but there is a logistical difficulty to be resolved. I understand the Minister is scheduled to attend the Dáil Chamber at 7.30 p.m. Is there any flexibility in that regard?
As we know, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is statutorily independent in the performance of its functions. Today, however, the Minister has repeatedly questioned its decision-making. He referred to his heightened concern about the decisions it made in this matter. We have heard that the Taoiseach asked the GSOC to level with the Minister. The Minister said the decision the commission took was a mystery to him. He told us there was an absence of evidence for the decision it took. The GSOC is akin to a police force in many ways. Is it appropriate for the Minister for Justice and Equality to be getting into detailed questioning of decisions it has taken under its police powers? The Minister seems to find my question funny but it is a fundamental point pertaining to the division of powers.
I do not find the question at all funny. I am in a position where I get beaten up if I do and I get beaten up if I do not. Questions were put to me, to which members expected me to respond, about my engagement with GSOC, the meetings I have had, and whether I had reservations about any particular matters. I truthfully replied to those questions. If I had taken the position that I did not believe I should reply, I would have been accused of being evasive. However, when I reply to the questions I am legitimately asked, I am then accused of beating up on GSOC and impugning its independence.
I have consistently said that it is of huge importance that GSOC, as an independent watchdog in respect of allegations of misconduct against the Garda, should operate with absolute integrity and independence. The independence it has is that it independently investigates matters without fear or favour and with no ministerial interference. However, the issue we are discussing has given rise to a whole range of problems. This committee is inquiring into these problems and the committee has asked me about particular issues. One of the issues relates to the powers exercised under section 102 of the relevant Act, the relevance of section 103, and whether I ignored in its entirety any issue that arose in that regard or whether I had any questions to raise and, if so, if I raised them. I have responded as truthfully as I can and this matter will be dealt with ultimately by a High Court judge.
I indicated earlier the real problem in all of this. There are a lot of good people working in GSOC. They have a statutory role to play, their powers are set out in statute and they have statutory obligations to comply with. GSOC is a watchdog body. The Garda Síochána performs its functions and the commission performs its functions as a watchdog. There is a very interesting debate going on away from this particular controversy, not just in this country but elsewhere, which can be summed up in the phrase: "Who watches the watchdogs?" This is not any more a suggestion that the watchdogs are not doing their jobs properly than it is a suggestion that the bodies they have to watch are not doing their job properly. However, a difficulty arises with a watchdog body where questions come up such as have arisen in this instance. If the watchdog has certain statutory obligations and if an issue arises relating to its compliance or otherwise with those obligations, does one stay schtum and say nothing or does one reference them?
The DPP is entirely different because it has no statutory reporting obligations to the Minister for Justice and Equality. GSOC, on the other hand, does.
There are no exceptions in regard to the DPP. I am not suggesting the Senator would do this, but it has suited some parties to muddy the waters by asking why, if it is an independent body, should GSOC have to say anything to the Minister. The answer is very simple. The Garda Síochána Act 2005, which was enacted by the Senator's party in government, imposed an express obligation on GSOC to report in certain circumstances to the Minister.
Will the Minister answer my question on the Lourdes hospital inquiry? When people who gave evidence to the retired judge last year requested the transcripts, the Department of Health refused on technical grounds. The matter is now in the High Court.
No, I did not, because it did not arise. Simon O'Brien spent two hours with me and my two officials explaining the background to the matter, as also detailed in the brief. The background was that there was no evidence of Garda misconduct and no definitive evidence of surveillance. There was no issue that required me to have a conversation with the Garda Commissioner.
I do not think I have talked to the Garda Commissioner about it. The Commissioner issued a statement in response to GSOC's press release on the Monday evening. I first saw that statement after it was issued, because the Garda Commissioner is independent. The next event that happened was that Mr. O'Brien reported to the committee. The following day, as I understand, the Garda Commissioner contacted Mr. O'Brien and the two of them subsequently met and had a conservation. The first time I met the Commissioner since all these events broke was at a ceremony held in Templemore College towards the end of last week.
I believe we had some conversation about all of the controversy that was going on, but it was not an engagement where I went into any detail with him about these matters.
We had an engagement with the media and we were both asked questions about the issue. In the context of the way events developed and matters were reported, when I met him I had not had an opportunity to read all of the documentation and information I had received. Our main engagement that day - outside of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Templemore College - was on this issue with the media. We did have a conversation about the Garda recruitment campaign in the context of ensuring that the first batch of recruits will be in Templemore College at the beginning of July.
I find it odd that a company such as Verrimus and an organisation such as the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission would have allowed that version to be the final report. The Minister knows as well as I that if one received a report and that if it contained something that was not correct, one would - I am sure - state that it was still a draft version and ask for it to be corrected. Why was the version in question allowed to remain as the final report? Did the Minister raise the matter with Commissioner Simon O'Brien.
It seems strange that a company such as Verrimus appears to have been very sloppy in its work. It was sloppy about the Wi-Fi and did not get to the bottom of the matter very quickly. It also referred to government-level technology but, apparently, one can buy such technology online. In addition, Rits came up with another version of the story regarding the telephone and the involvement of a console. We have been led to understand that Verrimus is a very high-level company with an extraordinarily professional reputation. Commissioner Simon O'Brien - a former police officer with enormous experience and so on - chose it following consultations with contacts he has in the UK. Leaving aside the Rits report, is the Minister not surprised by the commissioner's choice?
No. This is one of the reasons I have referred the matter to a High Court judge. The Cabinet has agreed that we should do so. I cannot adjudicate between the two of them. I am not shooting at Verrimus and singing the praises of Rits, I am just pointing out that there is a very substantial variation in the conclusions reached.
-----how they are conducted and what happens. I repeat that I am not adjudicating between these two. It is a matter now for a High Court judge to consider in order to ascertain whether there are inaccuracies and whether, perhaps, things were said that gave rise to misunderstandings. I cannot adjudicate on them. I do not have the technical knowledge to adjudicate. It would be completely inappropriate for me to do so.
I am also not shooting at anybody. It was the conclusion of Verrimus, not Rits, on the Wi-Fi that has given rise to so much conversation and coverage. It was Verrimus which ultimately determined that it was an anomaly, that it was not really a threat and, for some unexplained reason, that some sort of random linking in was occurring from another premises. Verrimus did not identify the premises - it merely stated that it was a local premises - but the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission confirmed its location yesterday. It was not Rits that unravelled this matter. In fairness, Verrimus unravelled it.
Yes, but obviously there are differences between them. What is the old saying? Is it that experts differ? I do not know. They say it about doctors and that it can have fatal consequences.
Indeed. When Commissioner Simon O'Brien came before us last week, he outlined the reason why he had organised the sweep. He said it was in light of some public discourse appearing to be exceptionally well informed. I know the Minister has gone through this and ask him to forgive me for coming back to it. Did he ever use those words in conversation with the Minister? I know they are not contained in this briefing document but did he ever use them in the Minister's presence?
I am obviously confused by the fact that there still appear to be questions about that matter. In the context of establishing the public inquiry in the first instance, I am sure this is not something GSOC would do lightly. The commissioners did not get out of bed one morning and say "Let's set up a public interest inquiry". They had an acting director of investigations and there are three commissioners. They took that decision and, as the Minister indicated earlier, there were only those two threats, anomalies or whatever one wants to call them.
I know no more than that. I would hope and expect that an inquiry of that nature would not be commenced lightly or on the basis of assumptions but would rather be initiated-----
Not only was this a subject of conversation with Commissioner Simon O'Brien, it was also the subject of the correspondence I sent to GSOC subsequent to its engagement with this committee. I got a response that did not add to my sum of knowledge. All of that correspondence will go to the High Court judge.
I have three questions for the Minister and I will try not to take too long. Does the Minister believe it was appropriate for the Garda Commissioner to publicly issue a list of demands to GSOC, a body to which the Garda Síochána is supposed to be accountable, on the Monday before last? Can the Minister confirm whether he shares the Garda Commissioner's absolute confidence that no rogue elements of the 13,000-strong Garda force may have been involved in the surveillance of GSOC members or offices? Can the Minister specify whether he has formally requested inquiries to be made by the-----
I am sorry about that, I was just trying not to eat into on other people's time. Can the Minister confirm whether he shares the Garda Commissioner's absolute confidence that no rogue elements of the 13,000-strong Garda force may have been involved in the surveillance of GSOC members or offices? Can the Minister specify whether he has formally requested inquiries to be made by the Garda Commissioner in this regard, whether he has received formal confirmation from the latter that this is not the case and whether the Commissioner has supplied details of the inquiries undertaken to support that conclusion? My third question relates to the power of GSOC. The Minister says it is crucial that we have a watchdog body and he indicated that he wants GSOC to be able to do its work. Will he explain why the GSOC report on the Boylan case was so damning? Why did he refuse to allow GSOC to investigate the position with regard to penalty points under section 106 from the outset? The investigation under section 102 was only established following political pressure. Why is GSOC still not allowed to examine policies, practices and procedures or to consider matters relating to the Garda Commissioner? Why did the Minister not allow GSOC to investigate the episode involving Roma children? On Corrib gas-----
The first question relates to whether I believe it was appropriate for the Garda Commissioner to ask the questions he asked. The Garda Commissioner also has an independent statutory function. He set out a series of questions in respect of what were obviously matters of concern to him. Subsequently, a meeting took place between the Garda Commissioner and the chairman of GSOC. I am not - any more than the members of the committee - privy to the conversation that took place between them. It seems that is where matters rest. Quite clearly the Garda Commissioner had concerns that the press release GSOC issues was open to misinterpretation. Again, in fairness, Commissioner Kieran FitzGerald of GSOC addressed those issues on the "Prime Time" programme. If anything confirms that they are open to misinterpretation is that for the past nine days there have been suggestions - despite GSOC's conclusions - that the Garda was surveying GSOC's offices. GSOC has stated there was no evidence of Garda misconduct but the issue keeps coming back. It is clear the Garda Commissioner had concerns. Commissioner Kieran FitzGerald tried to address those concerns, very articulately, on "Prime Time". The matter was then revisited before this committee and the waters became somewhat muddied as a result of the manner in which some issues were addressed.
Deputy Wallace, as he is entitled to do, is still raising the same issue. In the context of the Commissioner's questions, it seems to me the Commissioner has said no more about it. I can only assume that in the conversation that took place between himself and Simon O'Brien that issues of concern were addressed. It is important that both individuals, as leaders of the separate bodies, have some area of discretion and engagement that does not involve interference by me as Minister. What happened happened and I cannot add to that.
The Deputy asked if I can confirm whether I share the Commissioner's confidence that there were no rogue elements of gardaí involved in the surveillance of GSOC's offices. I do not know how many times this has come around in a circle. I would come back yet again to what commissioner Kieran FitzGerald said on "Prime Time". He said they were the people investigated, they found nothing, they did not find either rogue elements of An Garda Síochána or anyone else in An Garda Síochána engaging in surveillance in their offices. That was GSOC's conclusion, not the Commissioner's conclusion. The Commissioner then made the statement he made. It seems that both bodies are ad idemon that issue but it keeps on coming up. All I can hope is that, in fairness to both bodies and in the interests of ensuring there is public confidence in both bodies, any remaining doubts about these matters, or if there are issues out there that no one has addressed, would be identified by the High Court judge.
Deputy Wallace and I do not agree frequently on some things but I absolutely agree with him that it is of huge importance that GSOC does its work. Of course I read the Kieran Boylan report and of course I had concerns and I think I must have answered questions on this in the Dáil. Deputy Mac Lochlainn probably put questions to me on this issue in the Dáil and, I am sure, Deputy Niall Collins, who is not with us, asked me questions on this issue in the Dáil. A number of things arise and I do not want to get into the detail of that report. One of the responses the Commissioner would have given was that there was more than 50,000 documents, from memory, that GSOC obtained during the course of that investigation and that created enormous administrative issues within An Garda Síochána, but GSOC complained that matters had not been dealt with promptly, that it took too long for responses and too long for information to come to it. That is, as I said right at the start at a very early stage, why I had a meeting, following the publication of that report, with the Commissioner and Simon O'Brien. My recollection is that we met on more than one occasion around these issues, but I am open to correction on that. It resulted in new protocols being put in place - which were signed off on in September last - which were designed to ensure that within discrete periods of time information sought by GSOC is provided to An Garda Sióchána. Also, I put in place a troubleshooting mechanism, which did not previously exist, to provide that should GSOC say it is having difficulties or should there be a suggestion that An Garda Síochána is not responding when it should, that both a representative of GSOC and a representative of the Garda Síochána would meet, under the chairmanship of an official in my Department, and any issues that had caused difficulties would be fully voiced and it would be ensured they were addressed. However, adding to all of this, as the Deputy knows, there are suggestions that there should be various amendments to the legislation relating to GSOC. We have been working on that within my Department and have been looking at it for some time. That is why last Monday fortnight before all this started, we announced that I would bring proposals to Cabinet. I will not now bring them to Cabinet until the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality Committee has completed its deliberations. If it comes up with proposals that may be additional to matters we are going to address, we can consider them for incorporation into the submissions to Cabinet. The idea is to strengthen GSOC's position but also it is important that it operates in a manner that ensures there is public confidence in it and that there is absolute integrity to its information systems. It is important to note that once the judge has reported it may be the case that something will emerge from his report that would influence also any legal changes that maybe required.
I would refer briefly to my first one. The Minister gave us the impression that he did not ask the Commissioner why he posed those questions to GSOC. The Garda Commissioner is answerable to the Minister so I am surprised he has not asked him why he put those questions to GSOC.
With regard to my third question, the Minister has dealt with it partially. He said he is looking at the legislation and that he may make changes but I would still like to know why, on his watch, the penalty points issue was not dealt with in a proper manner.
Okay. The Minister is allowed to give GSOC the power to look at policies, practices and procedures and, on his watch, why has he not given GSOC that power? That is within his gift. On the issue of the Roma children, it was within his gift to allow GSOC a role in investigating that.
The Minister mentioned the new protocols and he made a bit of deal last night about the fact that he was giving PULSE access to GSOC as well but he gave it that access only in the past few weeks when under political pressure. Given that GSOC has remained toothless under his watch and given that it has been undermined on a number of occasions, does the Minister think it is surprising that public trust and confidence has been undermined in GSOC and, because of that, it also has been undermined in An Garda Síochána and how the police operate in this country?
I would like to deal with all of these points. The Deputy said that GSOC is toothless on my watch but on my watch GSOC produced the Kieran Boylan report - that was not toothless.
The Deputy has asked me a question to which I am responding. GSOC has produced the Kieran Boylan report and its annual reports and it has - as it is entirely appropriate and as it is entitled to do, when necessary, as was referenced last week - voiced public criticism of matters of concern. It is not toothless, it has been independent, assertive and has raised issues. The chairman of GSOC, despite the wish of some Members of the House, and not under any pressure from me by the way, has expressed absolute trust in me in my engagement with them. It was confirmed, I think it was by Kieran FitzGerald, at a very early stage in his interview on "Prime Time", something that a lot of people have chosen to ignore for the past week, that the presentation I made in the Dáil last Tuesday week accurately reflected the briefing I had received from it. That was said as well. I have a very simple view which I expressed at an early point. It is important that this body gets on with its work and that there is public confidence in it, and the work we are doing is looking at how we ensure any blockages in that work can be addressed.
On the issue of PULSE, that was an issue of discussion arising out of the Boylan report. The Garda Síochána and GSOC engaged with each other on producing a new protocol, they set out how these issues would be addressed under the new protocol and they were agreed on how they would be addressed, but then we got to the issue of referring the ticket charge matter to GSOC. It seemed to me blindingly obvious that in the context of addressing that issue it was necessary not only that the two members of the gardaí who are seconded to GSOC and under its command can access PULSE but that any members of GSOC engaged in that investigation could do so because it was important that they could see what was on the PULSE system, what information was available and what conclusions could be drawn from it. I concluded, because this was an issue to which I had been giving a substantial amount of thought, despite the protocols being in place, that we should in the future ensure that GSOC would access PULSE, as appropriate, and that is now in place and that is what is happening. If I had no concerns about GSOC operating, if I wanted GSOC to be a spineless body, or a toothless body, which is the phrase the Deputy used, none of those decisions would have been made.
I have a couple of brief questions. If I am brief, I would like the Minister to be brief, so I can come back in with some more.
It is strange that, unlike GSOC, the Garda Commissioner is solely accountable to the Minister, and that he did not deem it appropriate to ask Mr. Martin Callinan to account for his actions over the course of the past two weeks. The review will be fully co-operated with by GSOC and the security companies involved. Will the Minister and the Garda Commissioner co-operate with it? Why was it not given a full judicial role with powers of compellability rather than just being allowed to ask questions?
With regard to the issue of authorised surveillance, the Minister responded to Deputy Healy-Rae that he had not instructed any surveillance of GSOC. I want the Minister to categorically and unequivocally give an assurance that no one in the Garda, the Defence Forces or the Revenue Commissioners, the authorised agencies for such actions, carried out any surveillance on GSOC. Will he agree that it stretches credibility somewhat that the Garda Commissioner has said there is no basis for any garda involvement in any surveillance, which the Minister verified he did not challenge him on?
I contend that from the beginning the Minister has sought to minimise and trivialise these issues. He has misrepresented the view of GSOC on multiple occasions this afternoon. He repeatedly said it had given no evidence of Garda misconduct. That is absolutely correct, but is an entirely different matter from exonerating the Garda or from saying - as the Minister said, inaccurately - that Kieran FitzGerald had said on “Prime Time" that nothing had been found. GSOC and Verrimus said no such thing. What was actually said was that one of the anomalies - the Minister referred to them as so-called vulnerabilities and feelings, which reminds me of the Garda Commissioner speaking about so-called whistleblowers - constituted evidence to substantiate a potential breach of security in the offices of the Garda watchdog. The chances of one incident being benign were described as close to zero. There is a valid analysis of this which says that on detection that device ceased to exist. That is a plausible explanation.
Points have been made about the Wi-Fi. The Minister flippantly said there was no evidence of people drinking coffee-----
-----spying on GSOC. No one said there was. He has missed the point. The issue is that a password-protected secure GSOC network was capable of connecting to something. That is the issue, not what it was connecting to. The Minister claims there is nothing there. Can he explain these anomalies?
Yes, the Wi-Fi system was capable of connecting, because it did. However, that did not indicate that GSOC was under surveillance. It is quite clear from the conclusion of Verrimus that GSOC’s Wi-Fi was not under surveillance.
Minister, let me finish. With respect, I am the Chairman of the committee.
The first threat is the Wi-Fi issue, the second, the conference call, and the third, the IMSI technology. Will the Minister confirm that Rits has given him alternative scenarios with regard to these three threats?
Rits has given different explanations. Verrimus itself has stated the Wi-Fi was an “anomaly”, not an issue of surveillance. I cannot put it any more simply than that.
Deputy Clare Daly has given us what she understands to be what was said by Kieran FitzGerald. Kieran FitzGerald, when on “Prime Time”, was asked: "In your statement last night you said there was no evidence of Garda misconduct. Why would you say that in the first place if you weren’t thinking that?". He answered:
The presenter continued, "But your statement last night did that." Kieran Fitzgerald replied:
Because the reason we said that last night - and I’m happy to repeat it here now - is that it's part of the public discussion in Dáil Eireann this evening and all over the airwaves for the last couple of days. People are pointing fingers, and may I say it is unfair of people to point fingers at An Garda Síochána on the basis of anything we have said or done.
No. Our statement last night was meant to try to clear that up and say we did not find evidence of Garda misconduct, because the public discourse seems to be pointing in the direction of finding the guards guilty of this thing, when we are saying, quite clearly and categorically and in no uncertain terms, we found no evidence to point to that direction, and for people to suggest that, you know, they were up to something - we’re the people who did the examination, we’re the people with the evidence. We do not have any evidence to point in that direction.That is not me. That is Kieran FitzGerald, a member of GSOC. We are finishing exactly at the point from which we started, namely, the reason it is a good idea for a High Court judge to look at this. It seems it does not even matter what GSOC says about this issue. Those defending GSOC are constantly discounting GSOC’s own conclusions. That is a particular problem.
No, I did not. I published the brief I received from GSOC. These are security reports which I will furnish in full to the High Court judge who will have the technical expertise relating to these matters.
I will ask the question again. The Minister has given testimony about three threats and said he had received an alternative assessment that would cause confusion on each one. Will the Minister publish a summary of these alternative explanations so the public can ascertain the criticisms of each one? Putting it into the public domain would help.
I believe it is appropriate that the High Court judge be given all of the information and documentation in this case. I am conscious that Verrimus itself issued a statement, in which I had no hand or part, stating it was not in a position to make public comment on this.
I could not answer questions put to me by this committee without referencing the information available to me that I have received. I have tried to do that in as forthright and as a direct way as possible. If I had told the committee I could not answer questions because the matter was dealt with in the security reports, I would have instantly been accused of covering something up.
Perhaps you will do me the courtesy of letting me conclude.
I intend to furnish these reports to the High Court judge. Let him make of them what is appropriate in the context of the technical expertise he has. I understand Verrimus has said it is willing to answer any questions raised of the High Court judge. Rits will do the same. GSOC has said it will co-operate with the review.
With respect, Minister, here is our difficulty, and this is why I am pursuing this line of questioning with you. Our committee, which is public, has been given information about three threats and the assessments of the Verrimus security company.
The Minister is saying to us that he has received alternative advice that would undermine or unravel each one. I am simply asking why can he not extend us the same courtesy as GSOC and give us a summary of each analysis by Rits which undermines or unravels those three threats. That would be very helpful to the committee. It is a reasonable request.
I may be wrong in this because I am probably getting a little tired. It has been a very long afternoon. I think I am right in recalling that when the GSOC representatives were here, they said that for security reasons, they would not release the Verrimus report. If not for the extraordinary circumstances that have arisen here, as I said in the Dáil, I would not have gone into even the level of detail I went into last Tuesday week because for security reasons one would not normally do so. GSOC furnished the Verrimus report to me. I have the other report. It is of no help to anyone that I published them in the sense that I have had to answer questions and I think and hope my questions have made one thing clear. There is a dispute between the two companies on which I cannot adjudicate and I am not attempting to do so.
Our difficulty is that three threats were identified to us. Let us focus on Nos. 2 and 4. The second one refers to the chances of it being a coincidence as being next to zero while the third refers to government-level technology. If the Minister has an assessment from Rits that unravels that, we need to know in respect of our deliberations as a committee. Can the Minister give us a summary? We have a summary that causes us serious concern. Members of the public watching this tonight can see that the way Nos. 2 and 3 are worded by Verrimus causes concern. Verrimus is a company of international repute. The Minister has said that Rits is a company of commensurate experience and capacity. The Minister has been given this assessment. Can he supply us with a summary assessment point-by-point that unravels those three threats? That would be very helpful for the committee.
I wish to point out that the reference to each of the vulnerabilities and anomalies throughout this meeting, except in one respect which I will mention, comes from the briefing I distributed to members that I received from GSOC. I have not gone into all the technical information in the Verrimus report. The only thing I have added in the context of that report and which I think is reflected in section 103 of the report - I can check on this - is the additional information that I did not know the committee was not given in respect of the Wi-Fi system. I have detailed the conclusions of Rits. I presume the Chairman is not suggesting that I have come in here and misled the committee on those conclusions.
At this point, GSOC certainly does not want the full security report released. It has told the committee that. There is information contained in the report produced by Rits which is directly derived from the Verrimus report, which would put some of the Verrimus information into the public domain. I cannot solve the committee's issue with this because I will be giving all of these reports to the judge. The judge will have the technical information. It is entirely a matter for this committee but I do not know if this committee is going to continue with a process that may be a mirror image of what the judge is engaging in or whether, having heard from GSOC and I, it may want to meet and consider what it does next. That is entirely a matter for the committee.
The Minister is a very intelligent man and knows exactly what I am saying. Our committee has been given an assessment. GSOC had the courtesy to outline to us the three threats and the Verrimus security assessment of the three threats. The Minister gave an account to the Dáil last night that seeks to undermine and unravel one of them and that is his right. He mentioned a second one. I am simply asking whether it would be possible for us to have a rebuttal of the three threats that the Minister has been given, which he says have led him to have concerns. Can we have that rebuttal of the three points given to our committee? I am asking him to respect the work of our committee.
What we cannot do is release the totality of the Verrimus and Rits reports. In the context of just summarising the differences between them, I do not see a difficulty with that. The committee would have a difficulty, as have I, with determining which version is accurate and correct and which one has the relevant knowledge and understanding of all of this. That is something that is appropriate for a High Court judge to tease out with all the necessary technical assistance. I cannot predict this. It for the judge who is appointed to make these decisions but I would not be surprised if the judge wanted to meet with the relevant people and ask serious questions. That would be done within the context of that inquiry should it occur.
I will ask my officials to see whether something can be drafted that just summarises the differentiation between the two reports to be of assistance.
I am going back to my original questions, none of which, conveniently, were answered. I will rehearse them because the Minister might be a bit tired. In respect of the first question, the Minister said that GSOC and the security companies will be co-operating with the judge's inquiry. Will the Minister and the Garda Commissioner co-operate with this inquiry? Why did the Minister not choose a compellability route rather than allowing the judge to ask for information?
In respect of the last aspect, I do not think we need an elaborate and expensive inquiry. I expect that anyone the judge wishes to co-operate will co-operate. I think that answers the first part of the question. I think the Garda Commissioner has publicly stated that he would co-operate should he be required to in any shape or form. Of course I would co-operate. One of the initial things my Department will be doing is providing a complete pack of all the documents we have that are relevant to this matter. I presume that any additional documentation required from GSOC, Verrimus and Rits or anything else that is of relevance will be provided.
The Minister is answering questions I am not asking. From what the Minister is saying, one would be led to believe that he and the Garda Commissioner are not included under the terms of reference and that it is quite a specific issue with GSOC. We will know later, I suppose.
The Deputy will see the terms of reference when they are published but they are about this issue. They are not about what the Deputy is looking for, which is some sort of political hanging.
I am seeking what members of the public are seeking, which is a reasonable, comprehensive and transparent explanation for what has gone on over the past period. It is relevant to my second question, which the Minister did not answer. I noticed that he failed to deal with the issue of whether there had been any authorised surveillance. He has said on the record that he did not commission any.
Is the Minister telling this committee that he can categorically say that this has not been done? If so, on what is he basing his evidence and how can he say that there are no rogue elements of the Garda involved if, as he verified to Deputy Wallace, he never asked the Garda Commissioner?
For clarification, the Minister has said that there was no authorisation for surveillance from him and that no surveillance was authorised by any of those three agencies that are allowed to do so under the law.
I am not sure whether I can speak on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners but I have absolutely no idea why the Revenue Commissioners would be authorising surveillance of GSOC.
No, I have not asked the Defence Forces whether they have been bugging GSOC because there is no possibility that they have been doing so. I know it is a narrative to which the Deputy is very attached.
Let us not speculate about anything. I am referring to the legislative basis upon which authorised surveillance can take place.
There are three organisations that can do this. I have asked the Minister on what he is basing his assertion that no such-----
He has clarified the following - if I am wrong, correct me - the Garda Commission has already publicly clarified that the Garda has not and the Minister has clarified that he has not. He has not asked-----
Let me continue. The Minister has not checked with the Defence Forces and, in fairness, is not in a position to confirm with them. He has wondered why Revenue would do so but stated he did not know. These two-----
The Minister has misrepresented and quoted selectively throughout. Most of his submission to us allegedly relied on what GSOC had stated. GSOC, including Mr. Kieran FitzGerald, stated there was no evidence of Garda misconduct. Will the Minister state it is equally the case that there is no evidence of the Garda having been exonerated? It is a "Yes" or "No" answer. We have not received a satisfactory answer.
I think Deputy Clare Daly is probably fond of asking someone when he stopped beating his wife. We are going around in ever decreasing circles. I cannot add further to what I have said or to what members of GSOC have said on these matters.
Before I call Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, the Minister requested that we only have one round of questioning. The committee tried to compromise by allowing ten or 15 minutes at the end for committee members only. The remaining members are Senators Susan O'Keeffe and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh who will ask for clarification on any point that is unclear.
The Minister stated we needed to get back to a space where people had full confidence in GSOC. How can they do so if he has described what GSOC did as unfortunate and when he has criticised it in numerous ways?
I think that is a reasonable question. I have been asked questions at this meeting and have honestly and truthfully done my best to respond to them. It is important, whether we are talking about GSOC, An Garda Síochána or any other body, that if there are issues of concern, they be dealt with and addressed. I have said these are all matters at which the High Court judge will look. If there is something to be learned from the High Court judge's report, we will ensure difficulties of this nature do not arise in the future. That is hugely important because, ultimately, the objective is to ensure there is absolute public confidence in GSOC and, of course, public confidence in An Garda Síochána.
Since becoming Minister, I think the public has had a lot of confidence in An Garda Síochána. We know from the statistics published by the Central Statistics Office that the level of crime overall is down by about 7.5%, that the number of burglaries is down by in excess of 8%, that figures in 12 of the 14 categories of crime are down, that we see important arrests on a daily basis by An Garda Síochána, that there are a lot of bad people currently serving lengthy prison sentences as a consequence of successful investigations conducted by An Garda Síochána, that there are major trials under way of great importance as a consequence of major investigations conducted by An Garda Síochána, that there has been a reduction in the level of recidivism and that we are seeing fewer young people engaged in crime. The Garda diversion programme is hugely successful, keeping young people out of the courts and providing alternatives to deal with young people who get into trouble with the law. There are a lot of reasons the public should have very substantial confidence in An Garda Síochána. That is not taking away in any way from the importance of ensuring we have a watchdog like GSOC operating with full public support, confidence and full integrity. The people can be assured that, if there are allegations of Garda misconduct, GSOC will properly engage in the appropriate investigations when such complaints are made.
Yes. The Minister stated that, according to his information, one could purchase it for in and around €5,000. From where did he get that information? I have been doing my damnedest to see if I can purchase one for that amount, but I cannot find anything for less than €25,000.
I deliberately made the comment that this was advice I had received. I have not searched the web for one and it may well be that the advice is incorrect. I was merely quoting that I had been told this was available and that it was available to individuals other than Government agencies. It may turn out that someone can only get it for €25,000. I do not know, as I personally do not have one and have not attempted to purchase it. Verrimus and Rits might be right. There is a different point of view between them with regard to the investigation of that aspect of matters from a technical perspective. That is all I am pointing out.
My final question is on the basis of a rather alarming meeting I held in my office with a prominent journalist approximately 17 months ago. It has been asked whether the Minister sanctioned surveillance of GSOC. Has he sanctioned the surveillance of any journalist, be it in his job as Minister for Justice and Equality or his other job as Minister for Defence? Has he put any politician under surveillance during that time? I was blown away by the information, but it is difficult to be blown away by anything one hears now. A prominent journalist stood in my office and told me that he believed the Garda Síochána was involved in dealing heroin, which was quite astonishing-----
I note that the Deputy had an alarming meeting with a journalist. Journalists can be very alarming on occasion for a whole range of reasons that I cannot always identify.
I can assure the Deputy that I have no knowledge of any journalist being put under surveillance and have ever arranged for any journalist to be put under surveillance.
I thank the Minister. I noted his comment that one of his reasons for attending the meeting was to try to renew confidence in the Garda, etc. Deputy Clare Daly's point on exoneration was important, given the evidence provided for the committee. Notwithstanding what has been stated in the media, Mr. Simon O'Brien told the committee that the people of the State were and should be horrified to believe one State agency would in any way be surveilling another State agency. He had no evidence at the time that An Garda Síochána was surveilling his organisation, but he did not rule it out.
When Mr. FitzGerald appeared before us and was asked whether he was exonerating the Garda with GSOC's press release, he stated:
I would not use the word "exoneration" because it has specific connotations. What we did say was that no such evidence to point to the Garda was disclosed. The Deputy can call that exoneration if he wishes, but it is not the same as categorically ruling in or categorically ruling out.This certainly points to a suspicion. Does the Minister agree? Does he also agree with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties's point to the effect that the inquiry should be undertaken under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004?
In the context of what the Deputy said about exoneration, that was an unusual comment by Mr. FitzGerald.
Of course I am going to be accused now of criticising a member of GSOC but the Deputy has asked me the question. Kieran FitzGerald very clearly set out the conclusions of the commission on this matter on "Prime Time". It seemed to me that the statement referred to was at variance with what he said on "Prime Time". I do not know why that occurred. Based on that approach-----
I know, I have read it and I have saw it. Based on that kind of approach I would have huge concerns that there is a view the people are guilty until proven innocent. We actually have a system in this country whereby people are innocent until proven guilty. I found that particular response genuinely confusing. I specifically raised the issue in the correspondence that I had with GSOC after the hearing before this committee. It replied and came back to tell me that there was no evidence of Garda misconduct.
I do not know why that was phrased that way. The Deputy would have to ask Mr. FitzGerald.
Absolutely, and I think it helped to add to the narrative that has been continuous for the last week suggesting that the Garda was indeed engaged in some sort of surveillance even though the conclusion of GSOC - in its brief, its statement and press release - was that there was no evidence of Garda misconduct. It was an unfortunate manner of responding to the question asked.
I cannot say any more than that.
On the second question, we have already dealt with, Chairman, the decision made by Cabinet. That is the decision made by Cabinet. I know that, no matter what is done in regard to this issue, no matter what is concluded, there will always be people critical of decisions are made. One moment people are asking that a judge be appointed and a review or inquiry be undertaken but as soon as that happens people are criticising the fact that a judge has been appointed. If you do it "X" way someone wants is "Y" way. If you do it "Y" way they want it "Z" way. We have done it in a manner - the Cabinet agreed - that would allow for a situation where any issue that can be addressed needs to be addressed, and that the judge will have access to all of the individuals concerned. The hope and the objective is that within eight to ten weeks of the commencement of the process there will be a report published.
There is something called Cabinet confidentiality. The Cabinet made a decision. The decision was the decision announced and I cannot take it any further.
I want to follow up Deputy Flanagan's remark about journalists. I know that the Minister has said before that he has never bugged journalists and I completely accept that remark. I wonder has he asked Commissioner Callinan. There is a loophole that allows journalists who, which they may not be under lawful surveillance, may be added to another person who is under lawful surveillance. Let us say that I was under lawful surveillance then that person, because they have contact with me, can be added to that list. I wonder if the Minister has ever asked Commissioner Callinan about this aspect? The reason I raise this - it is relevant - is because a number of journalists have said to me that there has been inordinate concern in regard to this story and in regard to GSOC about journalists being bugged. I am not seeking to raise the matter in an hysterical fashion. Has the Minister raised that matter with Commissioner Callinan about names being added in a way that would then allow deniability of that surveillance?
I do not know. We are getting into such a weird area at this stage. I cannot account for people's level of paranoia. I am not aware of any journalist being under surveillance. That is all I can tell the Senator. I am aware that we have a system in place where a High Court judge can exercise oversight in certain circumstances.
We are now seemingly getting generally into the issue of surveillance. It is not normal or appropriate that the Minister for Justice and Equality, for a whole range of security reasons, enters into lengthy dialogue on surveillance issues. I gave the Senator that simple reply. No doubt we will have a headline tomorrow, "Minister for Justice refuses to deny that journalists under surveillance".
-----of an authorised nature by the Garda Síochána or any other body in the State.
Of course if a journalist was engaged in criminality of some kind that gave rise to some issue I could not guarantee-----
-----that if a journalist wanted to rob a bank, or trade in drugs, would not, at some stage, be under surveillance. They would not be under surveillance because they were a journalist; they would be under surveillance for other reasons. I do not know of any journalists under surveillance.
What concerns me, when I look back at what Mr. Simon O'Brien put on the record of this committee last week was that the sweep was organised in light of some public discourse appearing to be exceptionally well-informed and that when the sweep was undertaken these things arose. Guess what? There was something awry. It is something I am left still pondering and I wonder if the Minister is still pondering it too.
Has there been any connection here with the reports regarding Kieran Boylan and whether that has come with Mr. Simon O'Brien. That issue has been raised by many people outside of this room.
I believe that we are going back to where we started four hours and ten minutes ago. Simon O'Brien on page 14 of the transcript of the hearing before this committee last week said:
The security check, a security sweep, initially was in relation to a general level of risk to identify risks and mitigate these risks. I had nothing in my mind to say we were under surveillance.
He did. What he said at the start appeared to give rise to the possibility that it was not the case. Later he explained it when he was asked. Of course, and unfortunately, I have said - I have been criticised for saying it - that some confusion was created as a consequence of the appearance of members of GSOC before this committee. I think the Senator and other Deputies before the committee have clearly demonstrated that was the case by virtue of the very legitimate questions that they put to me this afternoon. Some confusion certainly was created as a consequence of the very important, probing and legitimate questions were asked of members of GSOC at this committee on this day last week.
At no stage was it suggested to me that the sweep undertaken had anything to do with the Kieran Boylan matter. If the Senator looks at the brief I received, it is not referenced. I cannot, at this stage, recall was it Mr. FitzGerald or Mr. O'Brien - but one of them - specifically said that the Kieran Boylan matter was concluded, reported upon, complete before they moved to arrange for any sweep to be undertaken. Clearly, there was no direct connection between the Kieran Boylan matter and the sweep because they had already concluded their deliberations and published their report. There was nothing about their view on that issue that was a secret that would have required anyone to have engaged in any surveillance of any description of their offices.
I shall answer each question as the Deputy raises them. No, I do not know the name. All I know was - I think this was said last week - that when GSOC wanted to do the sweep it tried to find the company but found that it had gone out of business.
I do not know the name of that company and I have not asked.
That is fine. My second question - I am now going over old ground but I am taking a different approach. Extracts from the Verrimus report have been published in bits and pieces in a newspaper by the journalist John Mooney. I asked the GSOC commissioner whether it would not have been better to publish the report or give the committee access to it rather than to read selected leaks?
Or Senator. But let me say again, Chairman, if some Member of the Oireachtas is planning to rob a bank, import large amounts of cocaine or to do anything else, which the Garda Síochána may discover-----
I do not want to go into the substances but I could not guarantee that at some stage that I or one of my successors may not be asked to sign some sort of warrant.
I will bring this to a close. I thank the Minister, the Secretary General, assistant secretary and officials. That concludes our engagement with the Minister. I thank members for their attendance. I thank the Minister, in particular, for agreeing to remain after 7.30 p.m. It was very important to get this issue resolved today.